Bishop Andrea Han Jingtao, a leader in China’s underground Catholic Church, died December 30 at age 99.
Described as a “giant of culture and faith,” Han was ordained a priest on December 14, 1947, and was secretly appointed in 1982 as the underground bishop of Siping, a city in northeastern China. He was ordained as bishop in secret in 1986.
Han was imprisoned in a concentration camp from 1953 to 1980 for refusing to join Mao’s state-supported church. Mao’s regime tried to “get rid of the Pope’s interference and expel foreign missionaries” in the 1950s, according to AsiaNews, a Catholic news outlet based in Rome, which recalls Han as saying, “at the time, I realized that the Church was facing a great challenge and needed great strength to resist; otherwise, she would not be able to stand up. This is why I decided to establish a religious congregation.”
After Han was released from prison, the regime realized that his proficiency in the English language could be very useful for the country. Han was drafted into service as an English teacher for masters and doctoral programs at Changchun University and later at Northeast University.
“He introduced many Chinese to the study of classical Latin, and Greek languages and cultures,” according to the AsiaNews article.
Han grew up in a Catholic family. He received his education from Canadian missionaries from Quebec who ran an apostolic vicariate under the Catholic Church’s jurisdiction in the region of China where he lived.
Members of the bishop’s underground church reportedly comprise two-thirds of the roughly 30,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Siping, a diocese recognized by the Holy See that covers sections of Jilin province, Inner Mongolia and Liaoning. The church has 20 priests and more than 100 religious sisters.
Although the government put him under strict house surveillance beginning in 1997, Han kept up his pastoral duties at great personal risk. He organized secret gatherings and encouraged members of his congregation to remain dedicated to their faith and to charitable pursuits.
According to Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights, the Underground Catholic Church until 2018 was “the name designated the Catholic Church in China loyal to the Vatican and including those Catholics who refused to join the government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Its bishops, priests, and laypersons were persecuted for decades, and the Underground Catholic Church existed precariously in the “gray market.” The Vatican-China deal of 2018 called for the gradual merger of the Underground Catholic Church into the Catholic Patriotic Association, creating one single Chinese Church whose bishops will be selected jointly by the CCP and the Vatican and appointed by the Pope. After the deal, the Vatican claimed that the Underground Church as such no longer existed, although the Vatican Guidelines of 2019 allow Catholic conscientious objectors to remain outside the Patriotic Association for reasons of conscience.”
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