Cherishing the memory of Bishop Michael Yeung
Even as his health was deteriorating, Hong Kong’s bishop retained his humor and faith in our Lord
God granted me a big grace by letting me work for then Auxiliary Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung and two other auxiliary bishops.
At that time Bishop Yeung, who died on Jan. 3, enjoyed good health and always had a smiling face. He rushed between his offices at Caritas Hong Kong and the bishop’s office. He gave me the impression that he was a joyous servant of our Lord and secretly I gave him the nickname “Joyous encounter,” for we were always happy to see him.
He was stepping down from his post as director general of Caritas Hong Kong and becoming the good assistant of Cardinal John Tong. He had to adapt from being CEO to the teamwork of the Hong Kong Diocesan Curia. He honored Cardinal Tong as his father and obeyed him as his loyal official. When he handled different issues, he would consider what was most beneficial to the whole situation, trying his best to maintain harmony in the office with his caring attitude to staff.
Every morning when he arrived at the office, he would recite his laudes before starting his work. He worked fast, with precision and efficiency, and I learned much from him.
I was also in contact with Bishop Yeung about diocesan ecumenical work. He showed his support and took it to his heart. In his brief term of office, he did several important things to promote Christian unity.
In July 2017, he gave an opening speech at the International Conference of Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Work in Hong Kong.
In October 2016, he was invited to attend the bishops’ meeting organized by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission. He was not able to attend due to problems with his sciatic nerves. However, he prepared a report with Bishop Andrew Chan of the Anglican Church.
After Bishop Chan returned to Hong Kong, he and Bishop Yeung decided to form a working group to carry out practical collaboration, and thus in March 2017 the Hong Kong Catholic and Anglican Liaison Group was established.
One of the milestones of promoting Christian unity was the signing of the Chinese version of the document “From Conflict to Communion” on July 14, 2017, by Cardinal Tong, Bishop Yeung and church leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of Hong Kong.
Bishop Yeung tackled some difficult issues with Father Lawrence Lee and others on this document before it was finally approved. He was open to proposals and wanted to make it perfect and acceptable for both parties.
In January 2017, Hong Kong Christian Council broke a tradition of 50 years by inviting a Catholic bishop to deliver a homily at the annual ecumenical prayer service during the Week for Christian Unity for the first time. Bishop Yeung accepted the invitation despite his heavy schedule and delivered an inspiring homily.
The health and spirit of Bishop Yeung deteriorated enormously in the last phase of his life. I will quote the famous teaching of Mencius to describe his state: “When Heaven is about to place a great responsibility on a man, it always first frustrates his spirit and will, exhausts his muscles and bones, exposes him to starvation and poverty, harasses him by troubles and setbacks so as to stimulate his mind, toughen his nature and enhance his abilities.”.
In his 18 months as bishop of Hong Kong, he did his utmost to serve the church and to care for the faithful and the youth. He enjoyed being with the youth and his dream was to be a mentor in a seminary.
Even though his health was deteriorating day by day, he never lost his humor and even teased his good self. Once he asked me why he was not notified that a meeting was cancelled. I told him that I had already informed him long ago. He replied: “You mean I have dementia now? Alright, laugh at me if it pleases you.”
Another time I was slow in replying to him and he wrote: “Should I wait for you? Even the cats fall asleep!” Then once I wanted to bring him something and he wrote: “You know me well. It’s not good to see me when I am very busy (he might lose his temper). I’ll get my punishment at the Last Judgment!”
Once I blamed someone who didn’t give him an important letter, but he told me not to blame others. If I wanted to blame, then blame him. His magnanimity, empathy and forgiving attitude put me to shame.
On Dec. 7, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, there was a big celebration for the clergy, sisters and brothers to celebrate their diamond, golden and silver jubilees. Before the Thanksgiving Mass, Bishop Yeung stumbled on his robe and fell. Nevertheless, he continued to celebrate the long and solemn Mass with all his strength. Since he did everything as usual and his voice was strong at the homily, I didn’t notice anything strange from where I was sitting. After Mass, he even went to the dinner celebration as he didn’t want to disappoint the jubiliarians.
The last time I saw him in the office, he was looking pale. He told me to pray for him as when he fell in the cathedral, he was very frightened and thereafter had no strength at all. He said: “Maybe Jesus wanted me to start again: ‘Get up, let’s go’ (Surgite, eamus hinc).” Bishop Yeung’s perseverance and faithfulness to our Lord deeply impressed me. His promise to Jesus was ever vivid in his heart.
I heard that in the hospital, when he was feeling a bit better, he wanted to sit up to work. He offered himself totally to God, to the church and to his people. He really suffered a lot during these two years. Once at an ecumenical function, he told me afterwards: “During the ceremony, I was staring at Jesus on the cross and asked him to give me strength to prop me up.” May God grant paradise to our dear bishop.
In May 2018, Bishop Yeung wrote a prayer for the church in China. The prayer is deep in meaning. May we continue to pray with Bishop Yeung in paradise for the church in China.
Theresa Lumo Kung is external secretary of the Hong Kong Diocese Ecumenical Commission and a member of the Focolare Movement.