Rome Newsroom, Nov 17, 2023 / 11:56 am (CNA).
A Chinese bishop who attended the Synod on Synodality assembly has spoken out about his experience, saying he was cheered to meet Catholics from all over the world and to discover that many showed great interest in and were praying for the Church in China.
Bishop Antonio Yao Shun of Jining was the first bishop consecrated in China under the terms of the Sino-Vatican agreement. He was one of two bishops from mainland China who participated in the first half of the synod assembly in October before suddenly departing early without explanation.
In an interview with the Pontifical Mission Societies’ information service, Agenzia Fides, published on Nov. 16, Yao said that he was very grateful to Pope Francis for inviting him and Bishop Joseph Yang to attend the synod.
“We were very happy to meet all these bishops, priests, men and women of different religious and lay orders from all over the world during the synod. Everyone was friendly and cheerful. They welcomed us and showed us their consideration,” Yao said.
“They all showed interest in the development of the Church in China, eager to know more and to pray for us.”
Yao is the bishop of Jining, located in China’s northern Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia. Born in Ulanqab in 1965, he is a native of Inner Mongolia. He both studied and taught at the national seminary in Beijing.
In the interview, the Chinese bishop shared a little bit about his Catholic roots and vocation story.
“I was born into a Catholic family. My parents and grandparents were very devout and faithful. It is with them that I began to walk in faith and received many graces from God,” he said.
Yao described how the greatest influence on his vocation came from an elderly priest. “His virtues and his selfless dedication to the Church inspired me,” he said.
“Meanwhile, my parents’ encouragement and support further strengthened my will and determination to pursue the path of the priesthood.”
After his ordination in 1991, Yao completed a degree in liturgy in the United States at St. John’s University in Minnesota from 1994 to 1998. He also spent some time pursuing biblical studies in Jerusalem.
He went on to serve as the secretary and later vice director of the liturgical commission overseen by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops, returning to the Diocese of Jining to serve as vicar general in 2010.
The New York Times reported in 2019 that the Vatican had approved Yao as the successor of Bishop John Liu Shigong in the Diocese of Jining in 2010, but the Chinese government refused to approve him, even after Bishop Liu died in 2017 at the age of 89.
Yao said that it is his impression that the “prevailing opinion” in China is that the provisional agreement signed by Beijing and the Holy See in 2018, often referred to as the Vatican-China deal, was “very significant” and “paves the way for promoting integration and unity between the Church in China and the universal Church.”
He said that he has seen a slight decrease in the number of baptisms in his diocese but still has young people and adults coming forward to ask for and receive baptism, something he attributes to “the good example set by the parishioners and the kindness, encouragement, and comfort that the local Church shows towards them.”
“In my opinion, the first mission of us Chinese Catholics is to show God’s mercy and love to all other Chinese,” Yao said. “We really care about the needs of society, especially those of the poor and the suffering, and we try to help them in every way.”