A Chinese Catholic bishop carried the Olympic torch on its way to Beijing on Thursday as the Chinese government tries to express its appreciation for the Church’s active participation in social affairs and to show progress in its religion policies.
Peter Fang Jianping, Coadjutor Bishop of Tangshan, took part in the July 31torch rally in Tangshan, a city about 110 miles from Beijing. Bishop Fang was the eighth of 208 torch bearers during the last leg of the relay in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing.
The 45-year-old bishop told UCA News on Friday that he was named a torchbearer because of the Chinese government’s progress in its religious policies and in expressing concerns over religious issues to religious leaders, but also “because of the Church's contribution to the society.”
Bishop Fang said the Diocese of Tangshan, which has about 45,000 Catholics and 40 priests, donated money and materials worth about $22,000 to earthquake relief in Sichuan. An earthquake measuring 8.0 in magnitude struck the province of Sichuan on May 12, causing at least 69,200 confirmed deaths and leaving more than 18,000 still missing.
According to the bishop, many local Catholics who saw the live TV broadcast of the Olympic torch relay told him they were overjoyed and heartened to see their bishop take part in the event.
Torchbearers are allowed to keep their torch as a souvenir after their relay run. Bishop Fang told UCA News he will keep his “precious spiritual legacy.”
Bishop Fang, a native of Hebei, was ordained a priest in 1989 and ordained a bishop in Beijing in 2000 without papal approval. The Holy See legitimized his episcopal status in 2002.
The Beijing Olympics will begin on August 8.