Hong Kong Catholics pay final respects to ‘man with ideals and great kindness’, late bishop Michael Yeung
- Yeung died in hospital from liver failure last Thursday, aged 73
- Vicar general pays tribute to man who looked out for ‘the last, the least and the lost’
Hundreds of Hong Kong Catholics bade their final farewell on Thursday to bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung at an overnight mass set to run until his funeral the next day.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mid-Levels had been filled with worshippers since before 5pm, when the late reverend’s body was laid in an open coffin at the altar.
Yeung died in hospital from liver failure last Thursday at the age of 73, ending his 17-month tenure as leader of the local Catholic diocese – the second-shortest tenure after that of Peter Lei Wang-kei, who died in July 1974, seven months after being appointed.
Wreaths lined the outside of the cathedral, including one from tycoon Li Ka-shing and his son Victor Li Tzar-kuoi. Stephen Cheung Yan-leung, president of Education University, and Frederick Ma Si-hang, chairman of the school’s governing council, also sent a wreath.
On their wreath, the Lis wrote: “Your light shall shine forever.” Cheung and Ma’s read: “Be with God and his grace.”
Pope Francis sent a short letter to express his “heartfelt condolences” to the Hong Kong diocese.
Followers were led to recite prayers inside the church, while a long queue of others who arrived later waited outside for their turn to pay respects before the vigil mass, presided over by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, started at 8pm.
Reverend Dominic Chan Chi-ming, vicar general of the diocese, said in his homily that Yeung was a man with a strong sense of faith and responsibility. He asked followers to carry on Yeung’s call to help “the last, the least and the lost”.
“When we were students in the Holy Spirit Seminary in Aberdeen some 45 years ago, we often played football,” Chan said.
“Bishop Yeung joined us, though he was not really fond of sports. So he often played as goalkeeper. Although he was often hit by the ball, he never retreated or moved the goalposts.”
Chan said Yeung continued such perseverance after he became a religious leader, in the face of criticism and, later, illness.
During the last month’s Christmas Eve mass, Yeung urged worshippers to extend their hands to those most marginalised in society, Chan said, calling on the mourners to remember and follow that message.
“The day before he passed away, I visited him in hospital and asked him to pray with me,” he said. “He raised his hands from beneath the blanket and drew a cross before and after we said the prayers.”
In a eulogy, a niece of Yeung’s said he had put a great emphasis on love.
“He often said that the Lord’s love can achieve everything, but we must open our hearts to such love first,” she said.
“He also said if there was a wall ahead, I would not just hit on it. It means that we should instead open a door in the wall, with love and communication.”
After the vigil mass, which was also attended by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, followers made overnight prayers for Yeung.
One of the followers, Ben Chan, 28, said he had known Yeung at the Tai Koo Shing Mass Centre, where the reverend served for more than two decades before he was appointed the diocese’s head.
“Bishop Yeung was very dedicated to details of religious rituals,” said Chan, who used to volunteer at the mass centre.
Angela Lo, in her 70s, said she had known Yeung for more than 40 years, since he was a friar working in Hung Hom.
“He was a man with ideals and great kindness,” Lo recalled.
Both Chan and Lo said they were not bothered by the recent controversy over the appointment of Yeung’s successor.
“God has it planned,” Chan said.
“The current arrangement is reasonable,” Lo said. “Most important is that the selection must be fair.”
The Vatican announced on Monday it would appoint retired bishop John Tong Hon – Yeung’s predecessor – as the diocese’s acting head, or “apostolic administrator”.
That broke with past practice in Hong Kong and Asia, where younger candidates, judged more capable of handling crises, are generally preferred.
It sparked speculation that the Vatican was blocking bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who had expressed sympathy with pro-democracy Occupy protesters, from becoming leader of Hong Kong’s 394,000 Catholics. Some commentators said it reflected how Pope Francis had the Vatican’s relationship with China on his mind.
Beijing and the Vatican reached a historic agreement in September on the appointment of bishops in mainland China, paving the way for rapprochement between Beijing and the Holy See, which cut diplomatic ties in 1951.