by Gianni Valente and Marta Zhao
Rome (Agenzia Fides) - He feels "truly honored" to have been invited to take part in the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops in Rome and to have had "the opportunity to speak about my journey of faith and at the same time listen to others". The Bishop of Zhoucun in Shandong Province, China, Joseph Yang Yongqiang, together with Bishop Antonio Yao, represented the Church of China at the first session of the XVI General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in Rome from October 4th to 29th and was dedicated to the theme "For a synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission". A few weeks after the conclusion of these discussions, the two Chinese bishops agreed to answer some questions to Fides.
In the following interview, Bishop Yan refers to the synod experience and traces his path as a priest and bishop. He responded to the invitation to participate in the synod with a quote from Confucius: "It is a pleasure to have friends coming from afar".
Joseph Yang Yongqiang was born in April 1970 to a Catholic family in Zhoucun and entered Jinan Minor Seminary in 1987. In 1989, he was sent to study at Sheshan Major Seminary in the diocese of Shanghai. He was ordained a priest in 1995. In 2003, he studied for a year at the Beijing National Seminary for a year. From 2005 to 2010 he taught at the Holy Spirit Seminary in Jinan. He was ordained coadjutor bishop by Fang Xinyao, Bishop of Linyi, on November 15, 2010, at the age of 40, at Zibo Cathedral. The Zhoucun diocese has 16,000 believers and 12 priests.
Bishop Yang Yongqiang, would you like to talk your priest's vocation?
BISHOP JOSEPH YANG: I think my vocation comes early in my life because I am from a traditional Catholic family and the faith of the elder in the family has a big influence on me, especially my grandmother. I remember she asked us to read the prayers every night and we were also required to kowtow in front of the statues or the pictures of God, Virgin Mary, St. Joseph or other Saints before going to sleep. Then she herself would continue to recite the prayers until late at night.
Which other people were important for your path?
YANG: My parents also encouraged my vocation. My mother once went on a pilgrimage to Mount of Our Lady in Huzhuang. When she came back, she told us that she saw some young seminarians sitting and reading in Jinan West Gate Church, quiet and self-disciplined. She talked about it as her eyes lighted up. Her words were etched into my heart, and a seed of priesthood was planted.
How did your journey continue? YANG: When I was in junior high school, I expressed my wish to my parents that I wanted to be a priest. My father told me to finish my study first and be a well-åeducated priest. He encouraged me to read books. Once when I read “De Imitatione Christi”, I was deeply touched by the first sentence of Chapter 10 "Don't Gossip: you must avoid boisterous crowds, for immersing yourself with secular surroundings, even with pure intentions, can't be harmless".
From then on, I stopped playing cards with my classmates...
How do you remember entering the Seminary?
YANG: In the year of my graduation, I got the news that Jinan Seminary was going to enroll students in September. Yang Tianzeng, President of the Seminary and my father took me to Zhoucun Church. My father introduced me to Father Li Chonglun, who was in charge of the diocese affairs, and said, "Today I hand this kid to the Church. I won’t rest in peace until he is ordained." I never thought what he said would become a prophesy. The day after my ordination from Bishop Jin Luxian, I received a phone call that my father had just passed away. I burst into tears. His words were like what Simeon said in Gospel of Luke which is also cited in the Night Prayers. Therefore, every time I recite the Prayers, it’s like I am praying for my father.
How was the beginning of your mission as a priest?
YANG: After ordination, I was sent first to the service of Jianglou Village, Huimin County, Shandong Province and then to the Seminary of Hongjialou, Jinan. I enjoyed the pastoral work in the parish, relished my work in the seminary and remained fully engaged with the provincial Catholic affairs. I dealt with various problems and challenges with the Lord in my heart, thus joy is always with me.
Do you remember your ordination as a bishop?
YANG: November 15, 2010 was another turning point in my life. I was selected by the Lord and consecrated as the Bishop of Zhoucun Diocese. In 2016, I was elected as vice President of the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China and won a re-election in 2022. I am truly honored to be invited to attend the World Synod of Bishops this year, and have the opportunity to share my journey to faith while listening to others’. May the Church in China and the Universal Church move forward together in Jesus Christ.
Bishop Joseph Yang, can you tell us how the experience of encountering Christ came about and takes place in your life?
YANG: There are many moments of encountering the Lord in my life, especially when building the bishop's palace. I feel that God has always been by my side, leaning down to help me build cornerstones and solve difficulties one by one. Such a large construction project means there are multiple challenges like choosing site, purchasing land, dealing with paperwork and various issues, and most importantly, securing funds. All of these have been solved one by one by relying on God. At the most difficult time, what I do is just to rely on Him. Now, with the blessing of God, the construction has been completed. It covers an area of 11,000 square meters with churches, priest buildings, nuns' buildings and other supporting facilities. The newly built bishop's palace is magnificent and solemn, and the environment is quiet and peaceful. I sincerely welcome you to visit us, as our Shandong sage Confucius said, "It's a pleasure to have friends coming from afar". (Agenzia Fides, 16/11/2023)