A low-key funeral has been held for Bishop Bartholomew Yu Chengti of Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, who died of cancer on 14 September at the age of 90.
Only around 1,000 Catholics were allowed to attend the funeral on Thursday at the rural church in Yuwang village, the bishop's hometown.
The elderly Vatican-approved bishop had ministered in the "underground" Church community since he was clandestinely ordained a bishop in 1981. He retired in 2003.
The Chinese government recognized him only as a priest, and local officials expressed "grave concern" over the funeral, but the diocese insisted on honoring him as a bishop. In the end, officials ordered that each parish send only a few representatives, and did not allow the diocese to publicize the obituary nor invite guests from outside Hanzhong.
Despite this official disapproval, a dozen priests from neighbouring dioceses in Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan provinces joined Hanzhong diocese's 27 priests to concelebrate the funeral Mass and pay tribute to the highly respected prelate.
Bishop Louis Yu Runchen of Hanzhong, who is recognized by the government and in communion with the pope, presided at a requiem Mass in the morning. A memorial service and burial in the church compound followed.
However, authorities did not allow a planned funeral procession around the village, a common practice to honor a deceased person in northern China.
Bishop Bartholomew Yu had been hospitalized with stomach cancer since April 13, Easter Monday. His condition steadily worsened until he could barely eat or drink and was kept alive by injections of nutrients. The hospital discharged him on Aug. 20 to spend his last days at the Yuwang church.
Bishop Louis Yu described the late prelate as "enthusiastic" in all aspects. "He performed pastoral work honestly and modestly, and won respect and support from his priests and laypeople," the 78-year-old prelate told UCA News.
The two bishops had worked together since the 1980s on the formation of priests, the
restoration of a convent and Church properties, and the opening of new churches.
Catholics from the diocese's "open" and underground communities gradually put aside
disputes and achieved reconciliation four years ago, according to Bishop Louis Yu.
A Requiem Mass for the late Pope John Paul II in 2005 marked the first occasion that
the two bishops and their priests celebrated together.
From then, all seven priests ordained by Bishop Bartholomew Yu and 20 priests ordained by Bishop Louis Yu concelebrated Chrism Masses together with both bishops on various occasions including Holy Thursday each year. On Holy Thursday, diocesan priests traditionally join their bishop in blessing the oil used for baptism and other sacraments.
A Hanzhong priest ordained by the late Bishop Yu told UCA News the prelate had preserved his faith until the last moment of his life despite enduring much hardship.
"He taught us to fulfill priestly ministry and spread the Good News diligently. If we did our best to develop the Church's evangelization work, it would be a great consolation for his soul in heaven," he added.
Born in 1919, Bishop Yu entered the seminary when he was 17. He was ordained a priest in October 1949, the same year the Communists founded the People's Republic of China. He was imprisoned when the Church faced political turmoil in the 1950s but was released on parole after a few years due to illness.
He returned to the diocese and served in Chenggu county as religious activities gradually revived after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). The bishop lived under constant government surveillance and faced official pressure even after his retirement.
Hanzhong diocese is home to an estimated 20,000 Catholics.