Updated: November 01, 2023 04:58 AM GMT
Newly elevated cardinal, Chinese bishop of Hong Kong Stephen Chow Sau-Yan, attends a courtesy visit of relatives following a consistory for the creation of 21 new cardinals in The Vatican on Sept 30. (Photo: AFP)
There is a great Christian hymn called “Tell Out My Soul.” This weekend, Beijing has — figuratively — rewritten it for Hong Kong’s churches, with new lyrics. “Sell Out My Soul” is Beijing’s version, and at least two of Hong Kong’s most prominent Church leaders sang it with gusto over the weekend.
As a Christian and a Catholic, I do not think one should genuflect anywhere other than at the altar of God, nor should one bow other than in reverence towards that which is holy, and in prayer. Yet this weekend, Hong Kong’s new Cardinal and the city’s Anglican Cathedral both kowtowed to Beijing.
For the very first time in its history, St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong — the city’s Anglican mother church — yesterday displayed the flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) next to the pulpit, on China’s National Day, the 74th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.
It was apparently the idea of a supposed Anglican priest called Reverend Peter Koon, a cathedral chaplain who previously served as secretary-general of the Hong Kong Anglican province.
But Koon is a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatchik, not an Anglican priest. He wears the communists’ hammer, sickle and stars on his chest, instead of the cross of Christ, as a selected legislator in Beijing’s handpicked, rubber-stamp, puppet legislature in Hong Kong.
Why is a pro-Beijing legislator moving flags into place in a cathedral Sunday service?
Just the previous day, Hong Kong’s Catholic Bishop Stephen Chow, was elevated to the College of Cardinals, receiving the red biretta from Pope Francis. Hong Kong now has three living Cardinals — the courageous, outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen, Cardinal John Tong and now Cardinal Chow — a remarkable fact that indicates the importance the Vatican gives to the city.
We should always distinguish between the good people of China, and the brutal regime that is persecuting Christians
Yet even before receiving the red biretta, Hong Kong’s new Cardinal signaled his sell-out to Beijing too by praising the Sino-Vatican deal — a deal which Beijing has brazenly violated multiple times, yet he claims is “working.”
Cardinal Chow says, “We always have to have some optimism” about the relationship with China, adding that “they also have some good people, they also have goodwill, they also want to see something good happening.”
When “the good meet together and encounter,” he argued, “beautiful things can happen.”
Beautiful words. But the key question for him to clarify is who does he mean by “they?”
If he means the people of China or genuine Chinese Catholics, then of course there is no disagreement. But if he is referring to the Vatican’s interlocutors in the CCP and the regime’s state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, then sadly, that shows extraordinary naivety.
We should always distinguish between the good people of China, and the brutal regime that is persecuting Christians, committing genocide against Uyghurs, intensifying atrocities against Tibetans, perpetrating forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, particularly Falun Gong practitioners, cracking down on dissidents, bloggers, lawyers, civil society activists and human rights defenders, and dismantling Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy.
We should be on the side of the people of China, and oppose the cruel tyranny that represses them. To think that the perpetrators of these crimes have “goodwill” and want “beautiful things” is a fantasy.
Of course, no diocesan bishop in Hong Kong today would find the role easy. Whoever was the Church’s shepherd would have to navigate a very difficult path.
Cardinal Chow should follow the example of one of his predecessors, the late Cardinal Wu
The tightrope Cardinal Chow has to walk should not be underestimated. That he avoids confronting Beijing directly is understandable, for the sake of protecting his flock. As a Jesuit appointed as bishop and cardinal by Pope Francis, it is understandable that he would not wish to challenge the Vatican’s China policy head-on.
But displays of enthusiasm for an agreement that Beijing has flouted repeatedly, and which has not resulted in any improvement in religious freedom but instead led to further persecution of Christians in China, seem inappropriate.
There are some small but significant steps Cardinal Chow could take which would not involve direct confrontation with Beijing but would put down a marker about his values and priorities.
For example, when he next visits mainland China — as he says he will — will he visit underground bishops who have been courageously loyal to Rome for decades?
The invitations from mainland dioceses which he has received, and which he describes as “very generous,” all come from dioceses under the CCP-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. If he accepts these without any attempt to visit underground bishops or seek the release of jailed clergy, he is dragging the Hong Kong diocese further into Beijing’s “patriotic” church system.
Instead, Cardinal Chow should follow the example of one of his predecessors, the late Cardinal Wu, with whom he often likes to compare himself.
According to research by Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, a Christian historian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, when Cardinal Wu was invited to Beijing in 1985, he explicitly sought permission to visit the underground bishop of Shanghai, Cardinal Ignatius Kung, who had been created cardinal by Pope St John Paul II in pectore in 1979 and was held under house arrest. The request was refused, but at least Cardinal Wu tried.
When he visited Beijing in April this year, Cardinal Chow told Catholics to be patriotic. To be truly patriotic — loving the country — and to truly celebrate “diversity,” he and the Vatican should not disregard or forget China’s brave, loyal, faithful underground Catholics.
A compromise candidate should not be too compromising or compromised"
“Diversity” is a sham if certain voices are silenced, eliminated, or ignored.
When Cardinal Chow was appointed bishop of Hong Kong in 2021, I was hopeful. I knew he would not be outspoken like Cardinal Zen, but I also understood that he was not Beijing’s first choice either.
Everyone who knew him told me he is a good man, an excellent pastor, and a suitable compromise candidate accepted by all sides. But a compromise candidate should not be too compromising or compromised.
His role is to defend, protect and nourish the Church in Hong Kong. To fulfill that responsibility, he should be careful not to be too eager to give too much away to Beijing too quickly.
The communists’ flag in the Anglican cathedral, and the cardinal’s suggestion that “beautiful things” could be achieved with the “good people” in the CCP, are just the latest warning signs of further trouble to come for religious freedom in Hong Kong.
I pray for Hong Kong’s Church, its leaders and its future.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.