Chinese Bishop Was No Stranger to Persecution

AsiaNews Director Remembers Bishop Giovanni Gao Kexian of Yantai

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

ROME, SEPT. 13, 2004 ( A priest-journalist recalled the late Bishop Giovanni Gao Kexian of Yantai as «a reserved and timid man» whose name is added to the «ranks of the martyred who gave their lives for Christ in China.»

The bishop died «in an unknown prison in northern China,» said Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of the AsiaNews agency.

On Saturday the Vatican announced the bishop’s death and at the same time confirmed his episcopal consecration.

The 76-year-old prelate died last month, and his body was sent to his relatives. The Vatican noted that there had been no news of him for some time.

Bishop Gao «lived underground for most of his life,» Father Cervellera said. «Only now, after his death, has his ordination by the Vatican [as bishop] been made public.»

«When he was arrested in 1999, news reports said that he was either a layman or at best a priest … to avoid him any further legal persecution by China’s security apparatus,» the director of AsiaNews said.

Only «three years ago was his status as bishop of Shandong [province] finally made public,» explained Father Cervellera, of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions.

According to the priest, the prelate had been raised in the Catholic faith among the underground Christians living in China’s largest Catholic community, Hebei province.

«Today, there are an estimated 1.5 million Catholics in this province, most of them belonging to the underground Church, guilty in the government’s eyes of exercising what in theory is a constitutionally guaranteed right, namely, the right to practice their religion,» Father Cervellera said.

Bishop Gao lived for decades as an «underground priest dodging arrest, frequently changing places,» the priest said. «For some time he taught in one of Hebei’s rural underground seminaries where poor students and teachers meet, unbeknown to the security apparatus, surviving on the meager charity provided by equally poor Christians.»

«Gao Kexian was ordained a bishop in 1993. For some time he worked in Hebei province. Eventually he was appointed bishop to the neighboring Diocese of Yantai in Shandong province, a region that is so poor that an increasing number of peasants are forced to leave for cities in search of work,» Father Cervellera explained.

From 1894 to 1949, the Diocese of Yantai was entrusted to the Franciscans. In 1949 it had some 12,000 faithful. It now has more than 30,000.

In that region, «with very few priests,» Bishop Gao evangelized until October 1999, Father Cervellera said. «His refusal to join the breakaway national Church, under the Catholic Patriotic Association, led to his arrest.»

When U.S. President George Bush went to China in 2002, he «urged Jiang Zemin to free him. Instead, Bishop Gao died in prison as did one of his colleagues, Bishop Joseph Fan Xueyan, who died in custody as a result of torture on April 13, 1992,» the priest said.

There are now three dioceses in Shandong without a bishop: Yantai, Weihai and Heze.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation