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A 100-year-old treasure continues to inspire

HONGTONG (UCAN): An old Chinese adage holds that an elderly person at home is a family treasure. At the age of 100, Father Michael Li Minghan, from the diocese of Hongtong, has proven to be of immense value to many of the young priests and people in his neighbourhood.

They turned out in big numbers on September 29 to celebrate his life and contribution to the Church during his 60 years as a priest.

Father Li was born in 1911, a tumultuous time in China’s history and a period when the Catholic Church was enduring one of its most difficult periods in China. 

He entered the major seminary in 1935, but had to suspend his studies at the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was not until 1941 that he was finally ordained a priest.

During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, he was sentenced to reform through labour in a village near Hongtong. When religious activities resumed, he served in the parish of Zhuangyuan, from 1980 until his retirement in 1993.

Father Wang, a young priest in the diocese, said Father Li had made a substantial impact on the clergy through his many published writings. One of the most popular is The Faithful Servant of God, a biography of Bishop Francis Han Tingbi, the first bishop of Hongtong from 1950 to 1991.

“This small book helps laypeople know the life of the bishop as well as the history of the diocese,” Father Wang said. “It helps readers understand the contribution of the older generation and feel their own responsibility to serve the Church.”

Father Li was also a prolific diarist and, with the help of his nephew, published part of his diary under the title, A Decade of Pastoral Work, which chronicles many of the joys and sorrows of his life as a priest.

“Father Li’s observations on society have also benefited younger members of the clergy,” Father Wang said. “Besides daily prayer, he likes reading newspapers and magazines. His strength in observing and comparing current situations in and outside China has enriched his pastoral work. He has what we call his own special method of evangelisation; one hand holding the bible, the other hand holding a newspaper.”

Although he never held any key posts in the diocese, Father Li was refused retirement on several occasions by Bishop Han, because of his outstanding work. However, Father Wang says, “Father Li knew when it was a good time to retire. To a certain extent, he thinks you need to give way to others. This is especially true of people holding important Church positions. They should know when it is time to step down.”

This theme was taken up enthusiastically by other priests. “We work for the glory of God instead of personal interest,” said one. “So we should follow God’s will in our work. Sometimes people hold firm to their positions, as they think the parish or diocese might be paralysed if they leave.”

Another said, “Our Church would truly grow to maturity and the Church in China would turn a new page, if only we learned when it is time to hand over to our successors.”

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