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A good shepherd who can unite Hong Kong Catholics

Jesuit Father Stephen Chow, the city's new bishop, is a man of sincere faith and committed to the education of young people

A good shepherd who can unite Hong Kong Catholics

Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan was obviously trained for a role of leadership in high academic education. (Photo courtesy of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus)

This is very good news indeed: Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus, is the new bishop of Hong Kong. As a Catholic community, we have been looking forward to this announcement for nearly two and a half years.

The reaction of the faithful is positive: Hong Kong urgently needed a young leader, in full possession of the authority of an ordinary bishop, able to take on long-term leadership for a community that is going through perhaps the most difficult time in its history.

Maybe 61-year-old Father Chow is not a particularly well-known figure in the Catholic community or even in the city, but those who know him describe him as a prepared and kind person, a man of sincere faith and attentive to the education of young people.

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Our sincere congratulations go to him. It is nice that the Catholic community finally has a pastor and that he is a person who gives us deep trust and hope. I find it positive that he is a Jesuit as well: hopefully he will be able to have access to Pope Francis, representing to him Hong Kong’s upsetting situation (on which the Vatican has so far been adamantly silent).

Father Chow has an educational background of unusual excellence. He was obviously trained for a role of leadership in high academic education. And so far he has done well as supervisor of the two Wah Yan colleges and as the Jesuits’ provincial.

He was in the small group responsible for the implementation of a Jesuit university project in Hong Kong about a decade ago. The ambitious and important project would have finally brought a Catholic university to the city. The Society of Jesus and its then general superior Adolfo Nicolas were extremely committed. But Hong Kong’s pro-communist chief executive C.Y. Leung turned the tables by denying the promised concession in Queen's Hill (Fanling). It was a serious setback for the educational projects of the Society of Jesus and for the diocesan and academic community of the city. Stephen Chow himself has sadly experienced the government’s tough policy on academic freedom.

If I tell you that I am neutral, I may be lying. But I listen and accept other opinions

The freedom of Catholic schools is one of the main challenges that Hong Kong Diocese has to face in this difficult period. The appointment of Father Chow bodes well that there will be a great commitment to safeguarding educational freedom.

Last December Father Chow was interviewed by the Chinese MingPao Weekly magazine about his experience as a supervisor in a Jesuit school. The interview and an English translation can be found on Father Chow’s Facebook profile. He described himself and his mission as “a bridge” in words that might now sound as a program.

“After the 2019 movement, the society became divided. Teachers and students in our school were divided as well. Nobody is neutral in the society. If I tell you that I am neutral, I may be lying. But I listen and accept other opinions. A bridge must be stepped over by people so that it can bring people to the other side. Being a bridge entails bearing a burden. My words may not cater to both sides, but at least it brings people from the two sides to come together in the middle. Otherwise, there is no future for society,” he told the magazine.

Many commentators linked Father Chow’s appointment as bishop to the fact that, unlike other candidates, he is not seen as politically divisive. I would prefer to describe this as a genuine pastoral, ecclesial and spiritual choice. The bishop is a shepherd that leads the community forward, protects it, keeps people united and looks for the lost ones. I believe Bishop-elect Chow will be such a good shepherd.

It is too bad that it took two and a half years to identify him and to arrive at this choice. Many people became discouraged. Hong Kong society and its church are going through dramatic times, and the appointment was long overdue. The elderly Cardinal John Tong Hon, a man who deserves respect and gratitude, could not continue to carry out such a demanding task on a temporary and provisional basis. Better late than never, as they say. There is a bishop in Hong Kong now. And we are with him.

Father Gianni Criveller of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions is dean of studies and a teacher at PIME International Missionary School of Theology in Milan, Italy. He taught in Greater China for 27 years and is a lecturer in mission theology and the history of Christianity in China at the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Philosophy and Theology in Hong Kong. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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