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Beijing archbishop begins historic visit to Hong Kong

Joseph Li Shan's visit aims to promote 'exchanges' between two dioceses, Hong Kong diocese says
Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing (left) hands over an image of pioneering Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci to Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong on Nov. 13.

Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing (left) hands over an image of pioneering Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci to Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong on Nov. 13. (Photo: The Sunday Examiner)

Published: November 14, 2023 11:33 AM GMT
Updated: November 14, 2023 12:08 PM GMT

Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing, president of China’s state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), began his five-day visit to Hong Kong on Nov. 13.

Li’s Nov. 13-17 “reciprocal visit” to the former British colony comes following an invitation from Hong Kong’s bishop Cardinal Stephen Chow Sau-Yan, who visited the Chinese national capital in April to promote “exchanges.”

Chow and auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha welcomed Li and his delegation to the diocesan center in the city on Nov. 13, according to the website of Sunday Examiner, the diocesan publication. 

During their encounter, Chow and Li exchanged souvenirs to mark the historic visit.

Li handed Chow a stained-glass image of Venerable Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), an Italian Jesuit and one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China mission. Chow offered Li an image of Saints Peter and Paul, painted on a white wood panel to create a three-dimensional effect.

Li also participated in the vespers, the evening prayers, in the chapel of the diocesan curia.

He is slated to visit different departments of the Hong Kong diocese and its educational organizations, as well as the Holy Spirit Seminary, the Sunday Examiner reported without revealing further details on the visit.

Li did not respond to reporters' inquiries during his visit to the diocesan curia, the Standard news site reported.

Earlier, on Nov. 3, the Hong Kong diocese said Li’s visit was aimed “to promote exchanges and interactions between the two dioceses.”

In April, Chow traveled to Beijing at Li’s invitation and urged for more dialogue as the way forward to strengthen Vatican-China ties and improve relations between the Chinese government and Chinese Catholics.

Chow’s visit to mainland China was the first by a Hong Kong bishop since the British handover of the island to China in 1997.

On Nov. 4, after his first Mass in Hong Kong after Pope Francis made him a cardinal, Chow reiterated his commitment to making Hong Kong  "a bridge church” that connects the church in China and the world.

Li’s visit comes amid tensions between the Vatican and Beijing regarding the Sino-Vatican agreement of 2018 on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China. Initially signed for two years, the agreement was renewed twice in 2020 and 2022, each time for two years.

The deal reportedly allows both China and the Vatican to have a say on the appointment of bishops, which has been a bone of contention ever since China severed diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951.

The 2018 deal helped the appointment of several bishops through mutual agreement. It also helped the Vatican approve several bishops appointed earlier without a papal mandate.

However, recently the Vatican has accused Beijing of violating the agreement by installing a bishop and transferring another unilaterally. 

Observers say the Vatican seeks to re-establish formal ties with China and unify Catholics divided between a state-controlled patriotic church and the underground church that pledges allegiance to the pope.

Human rights groups have reported a renewed crackdown on the underground church in its attempt to present the state-controlled Church as the only legally valid and Vatican-recognized Church in China.

Critics of the deal alleged the Vatican has betrayed the underground Catholics by warming up ties with the communist regime.

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