1990 Joseph Wang

To describe as martyrdom a life like that of the Chinese Augustinian Recollect bishop José Wang (1921-2004) is not hyperbole. Faith lived in the family and cultivated throughout his life, he remained firm in his convictions even in the face of torture, persecution, and imprisonment.

Family origins

Joseph Wang was born on February 3, 1921, in Qinggu Village of Caoxian, Shandong province. That was the town where his paternal grandparents lived and set up to preach the gospel. Joseph was baptized 8 days after birth. His first years were not easy since at that time his region was going through natural disasters and famine, which made daily life extremely difficult. José used to accompany his mother to collect firewood and beg for food to survive.

The Wang family decided to migrate south to escape the famine and settled in the Shangqiu station area. Despite the difficulties, Joseph’s mother, a devout Catholic, walked to church every day to receive the Eucharist.

Entry into the Seminary and religious profession

At the age of eight, José was taken as a candidate to the first seminary that Father Francisco Javier Ochoa opened. However, he would have to return to his house for missing the signature of the father, who had moved to another city for work. It was in the Easter of 1933, at the age of twelve, when Joseph Wang would finally be accepted into the new minor seminary that had been built. After five years, on December 30, 1938, he would begin the novitiate together with Nicholas Shi.

Due to his delicate health, José had to take a break from his studies and spent a year recovering in Zhanggongji, Ningling County. Then, in 1941, José moved to Wuhu Major Seminary to study philosophy, but due to local conditions, returned to Shangqiu to continue his studies there.

Priestly ordination

Joseph Wang’s path to the priesthood was full of challenges. His health had made him lost a year of studies and was almost prevented from being ordained due to a conflict – which caught him in the middle, between Monsignor Francisco Javier Ochoa and the Filipino nuns. Without however, his mentor, the rector of the seminary, Fray Joaquín Peña, assured him that, being religious, he could be ordained by another bishop.

José passed the order exams despite a not-very-favorable opinion of his theology teachers, thanks to the intervention of Father Mariano Gazpio. Once admitted for orders, he completed his studies in Hong Kong due to the instability and uncertainty that reigned in Shangqiu after the victory of the communists. On March 3, 1950, he was ordained a priest in Manila and celebrated his first solemn mass there on March 7.

He returned to the Shangqiu mission when called by Monsignor Arturo Quintanilla, but the government did not allow him to exercise his priestly ministry there, ordering him to register in his hometown.

José Wang jailed for a decade

After returning to Chenhe, the Qingguji priest empowered him to practice in his parish, a faculty that the vicar general, Father Tian Duo, would extend to the entire diocese.

However, his life would take a drastic turn in March 1951, when he was brought to the office from the county government to do residency registration and ended up being imprisoned in Fucheng County Prison for three months.

After his release, José lived under constant police surveillance for four and a half years, but that did not stop him from continuing to serve the Christian community in secret. Taking advantage of the nights, he went out to confess, visit the faithful, and administer the Holy Anointing to the sick, even traveling long distances to fulfill his pastoral duty.

When the German priest of his town was expelled, he gave Joseph all the faculties as parish priest, and the auxiliary bishop, Bishop Ge, conferred on him the parish of Caoxian and its dependent districts, formally welcoming him into his diocese, where he worked for about three years, from 1955 to 1958.

However, the political situation worsened, and religious repression by the Chinese Communist Party intensified. Joseph knew that he would be arrested and imprisoned, but he had no fear. From the day of his priestly ordination, he had prepared himself to suffer and face difficulties with Christ. Daily Mass was his source of strength.

In 1958, José was repeatedly accused and interrogated to reveal the content of the confessions. Despite physical torture, Joseph stood firm and refused to reveal the sacred secrets of the Church.

Finally, on October 16, 1958, José was arrested again and spent six and half years in Caoxian prison. During his time in prison, he consecrated the Body of Christ clandestinely several times to strengthen his spirit. After serving his sentence, he was sentenced again for another four years, adding up to ten years of deprivation of freedom. After his release in 1968, José returned home and worked on the village production of him as administrator of the communal garden until 1979.

Rehabilitation and reunion time

After the death of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping assumed power in China and declared the rehabilitation of the so-called “right-wing”. In 1979, both, he and his father Nicolás Shi were rehabilitated, thus proving his innocence. That year took place the first reunion between José Wang and Nicolás Shi after ten years of separation.

The opening of China allowed fathers Pedro Tung and Pedro Ko to obtain permission to return to China and visit their relatives. It was the first time since 1948, when they left China as seminarians, met their blood family in person, and with his Recollect brothers who had remained as priests in China.

Prison and loyalty to the Pope

However, the reunion with the Recollect priests and other foreign priests led José Wang to face imprisonment again. He was sentenced to ten years, but his sentence was reviewed and ultimately reduced to two. In 1984 he was released, although he was not even allowed to lead a normal religious life due to his refusal to join the patriotic Church and break his communion with the Pope of Rome.

In 1986 José Wang was invited to a meeting in Beijing together with other members of the clergy. The meeting lasted for three months and it was at that time that José Wang and Nicholas Shi publicly professed their attachment to the Pope and again expressed their refusal to break communion with him and join the Patriotic Association.

Joseph Wang, the apostle of Heze

Being the only priest in Heze, Joseph Wang sought out catechists to help him in evangelization, but he could not do it due to lack of financial resources. Therefore, he dedicated himself tirelessly to evangelizing, visiting communities, and touring his territory. God blessed his evangelizing zeal and the number of faithful increased rapidly from ten thousand people in less than ten years.

Consecration of Monsignor Joseph Wang as Bishop of Heze

The Heze Christians urged Joseph Wang to become a bishop. Despite his initial doubts, he accepted the proposal. In October, his consecration as bishop was approved by the Pope. Although they did not notify the government, on December 8, 1996, José Wang was consecrated bishop.

Half a year later, his consecration became public and he was reported to the authorities. The government questioned his legitimacy as bishop, but in 2000 he was finally officially recognized as bishop of the Diocese of Heze, allowing him to exercise his ministry openly.

The last years of Monsignor José Wang

The last years of Monsignor José Wang were dedicated to shepherding the growing community of more than 30,000 faithful. He encouraged priestly and religious vocations and persevered despite financial difficulties and the rejection of some underground bishops and priests.

Monsignor José Wang died on July 26, 2004. His companion, Monsignor Nicolás Shi, described him as a zealous missionary dedicated to evangelical preaching and administration of the sacraments. His humility and dedication reflected his dedication to Christ and his love for souls. The story of Monsignor José Wang is a testimony of courage, faith unwavering dedication to priestly ministry despite persecution and imprisonment.