China's oldest priest dies at 105

Christians attend Sunday service at Shouwang Church in Beijing in this file photo from October 3, 2010.(Photo: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic)

Not all people get the chance to see a whole century in their lifetimes. One of the few who did was a dedicated man of God in China.

Father Ye Yaomin of Guangzhou, China's oldest priest, was 105 when he passed away in the early morning of Tuesday.

According to UCA News, Father Ye died after parishioners took him home. And for the priest, home was the Immaculate Conception Church in Foshan, Guangdong province.

"He told us that the Church is his home and he has to die in his home," said Sister Chen Jianyin, who had looked after Father Ye for over two decades.

According to Sister Chen, the centenarian priest enjoyed good health until his final weeks. Sensing that his time was near, Father Ye refused to stay in the hospital and instead asked to be taken to the church in his hometown.

Born during the first decade of the 20th century, the elderly priest witnessed the ups and downs of his country, from the end of dynasties, to the outbreak of civil wars, to the rise of a Communist Party suspicious of the Christian faith.

1937 marked the beginning of his religious career, after he travelled to Hong Kong and entered the Southern China Major Seminary, where he stayed for seven years.

He was ordained a priest in 1948, when China was in a period of turmoil.

That year, communist troops took hold of Manchuria, and the next year, Peking, Nanking, and Shanghai fell into their control as well. About a million people were killed until in October 1949, Mao Tse-tung declared the People's Republic of China, which is currently the 29th worst country for Christians according to the World Watch List.

The communist government banished Father Ye to Qinghai province and ordered him to years of feeding pigs after he was reported and found to have news clippings sent to him by his former classmates in British-ruled Hong Kong.

Although persecuted, Father Ye held no anger for the people who took him from the church and sent him to tend to pigs, UCANews reports.

"He was once asked by some people if he hated the Communist Party for his suffering. He said 'No, hatred is itself a sin'," said Sister Chen.

His years in exile did little to dampen his faith. In 1980, Father Ye was finally able to step foot in his hometown again, by now an old man, and soon began to preach in Foshan's Jiangmen Diocese.

He was repeatedly urged by his relatives to emigrate abroad, but to their pleas, he replied, "China needs priests."

Instead of running away, Father Ye stayed put and busied himself with helping rebuild churches torn down after the Communists came to power. 

Father Ye is scheduled to be interred on Saturday at Foshan's Immaculate Conception Church.