Thousands brave weather, government ban to attend underground Chinese Catholic bishop’s funeral

Some 2,500 Catholics braved freezing conditions Jan. 6 to pay their last respects to “underground” Bishop Leo Yao Liang of Xiwanzi, who had spent almost 30 years of his life behind bars. Vatican-approved Coadjutor Bishop Yao, who the government recognized only as a priest, died on Dec. 30 at the age of 86. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1958 as he refused to join the independent Church movement, and released only in 1984. In 2002, he was clandestinely ordained as a bishop and had been detained several times since then. The funeral service was held in Xiwanzi town, Chongli county, in Hebei province. Bishop Yao was referred to as “shepherd” during the service, after authorities disallowed the use of the term “bishop.”