Bishop Anthony Dang Mingyan of Xi'an said at a commemorative Mass on May 19 that Bishop Li had been the model of a respectful pastor. The best way to honor his memory would be to act on his wish to renew faith and foster evangelization, he suggested.
He cited these themes as being in line with the Year for Priests, which Pope Benedict XVI has set to begin on June 19, as well as the Pauline Year that will end on June 29.
Bishop Dang cited Bishop Li's 2004 "Letter to Young Priests," which reminded them to "attach importance to spiritual life, to be a person with principles and a person with ideals based on Gospel values."
This model could be realized through special veneration to uphold one's faith while advancing laypeople's faithfulness to God, Bishop Dang said.
Bishop Li, who died on May 25, 2006, was jailed three times by Chinese authorities both before and after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when religions were systematically repressed. The prelate seldom mentioned these experiences, although those who suffered with him at that time recalled that he maintained a firm and steadfast faith in the face of torture and beatings, Bishop Dang said.
Worshippers gather for the Mass commemorating Bishop Li
He recounted that Bishop Li restored many churches, convents and seminaries, and established social-service centers to serve social minorities during his episcopate (1987-2006). The late bishop also set up the first formation center for nuns on the mainland and sent Church personnel abroad for further study.
Some praised the late prelate as "model of faith and milestone of the times, and some even speculated that he was one of the cardinals in pectore named by Pope John Paul II," Bishop Dang remarked. In pectore, which literally means "in the breast," is a term used when a pope secretly names someone a cardinal without announcing this publicly.
Praise for Bishop Li was well deserved and arose from his genuine faith in God and loyalty to the Church, Bishop Dang said.
The May 19 Mass concluded a series of commemorative activities held at the church in Gongyi, 40 kilometers east of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, where Bishop Li was buried beneath a side altar.
Parishioners walk in procession with a portrait of the late bishop
Among the concelebrants who joined Bishop Dang for the Mass were four bishops from neighboring dioceses.
Xi'an diocese organized the large-scale commemoration in line with the local custom of remembering the third anniversary of a person's death with special solemnity.
Other activities held May 14-19 included pastoral lectures conducted by dozens of nuns and priests, and the church set up information counters and display boards on Catholic faith for visitors. A procession that drew thousands of Catholics from various parishes brought Bishop Li's portrait and banners through several villages near Gongyi Church.
About 4,000 Catholics and 2,000 other people participated in those activities.
The late bishop served as parish priest at Gongyi from 1980 to 1987, when he became bishop. Born in 1927, Bishop Li was ordained a priest in 1951. He was one of the four mainland bishops the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI invited to the Synod of Bishops on Eucharist in 2005. The Chinese government did not allow them to attend, however.
Bishop Li died at the age of 79 after struggling with liver cancer for two years.
The official Vatican newspaper "L'Osservatore Romano" published an article on May 31, 2006, describing Bishop Li as "one of the best-known and most highly esteemed Chinese bishops both in China and abroad (and) a man who truly believed in dialogue."