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Don't regard Beijing as the enemy, says Hong Kong's new bishop

Bishop-designate Stephen Chow aims for dialogue to ensure religious freedom as a basic right in the Chinese territory

Catholic News Service and UCA News reporter

Catholic News Service and UCA News reporter

Published: May 19, 2021 03:56 AM GMT

Updated: May 19, 2021 05:21 AM GMT

Don't regard Beijing as the enemy, says Hong Kong's new bishop

Bishop-designate Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong speaks during a news conference at the Catholic Diocese Centre in Hong Kong on May 18. (Photo: UCA News)

Bishop-designate Stephen Chow Sau-yan has urged Hong Kong Catholics to start with a sense of faith and not assume Beijing is the enemy as he hoped for dialogue to develop a better understanding.

“It is not that I am afraid to talk about controversial or political issues. Rather, we believe prudence is a virtue,” he said.

“Religious freedom is our basic right. We want to really talk to the government not to forget that. It is important to allow religious freedom, matters of faith — not just Catholic but any religion should be free.”

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Hong Kong Diocese introduced the bishop-designate at a news conference on May 18, the day after Pope Francis named him a bishop. Father Chow, 61, is provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus. To allow for the Jesuits to appoint a new provincial superior, his episcopal consecration will be on Dec. 4, reported the Sunday Examiner, the newspaper of the Hong Kong Diocese.

The Catholic Social Communications Office announced that Cardinal John Tong Hon, apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, will continue in office until Father Chow takes canonical possession of the diocese after his installation.

At the news conference, Father Chow answered an array of questions regarding his vision for the diocese, its relationship and integration with Hong Kong society and its relationship with the Church in China.

But I do believe that there is a God who wants us to be united. Unity is not the same as uniformity

Responding to a question about how he would bring about unity in the church community, which has been highly polarized in the recent past, he said that since he has just been appointed, he has no big plans.

“But I do believe that there is a God who wants us to be united. Unity is not the same as uniformity. I always mentioned in my schools, we must respect unity in plurality. It is something that we must learn to respect — plurality,” he said.

The appointment of Father Chow, who is seen as non-divisive, is regarded by observers as a way to tackle the polarization among local Catholics divided between those who expect the Church to be more vocal about China's policies and those who prefer less confrontation.

Since 2006, Father Chow has been supervisor of the Wah Yan colleges, two prestigious Jesuit educational institutions in Hong Kong. He described his role of supervisor as that of being a “bridge.”

When the Sunday Examiner quizzed him on his role of being a bridge in the larger perspective of the diocese, Father Chow said: “Two years ago, Hong Kong and even my school community were much divided. The question was how to bring healing. It takes a long process — and I am not saying I was successful, but I am doing my best. Listening with empathy is very important, and this is the fundamental point.”

Responding to a question on what his fears or concerns might be and the difficulty that he had in accepting the appointment, he said he believed “the bishop of the diocese should better come from among the diocesan priests.”

However, he said, “I have discussed and discerned with my father general in Rome. At the end, as a Jesuit, I owe my obedience to the Holy Father.”

He recounted, “The Holy Father wrote something — in his handwriting — that he ‘agrees that I should be the bishop.’ I read the letter — in Italian, I don’t know Italian — but it was translated for me. For me, that was a sign that I should take it up. And Hong Kong is a place I really love, my birthplace and the place where I grew up.”

Responding to a question about accompanying young people in the future, especially on occasions like observing the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Father Chow said: “There are different ways of commemoration. Sometimes in the past, I had joined the event in the public arena, but there were times I could not go. So I pray, I pray for China, pray for all those who passed away in 1989. Whether it is possible this year depends on the legal requirements.”

When asked about the removal of crosses from churches on the mainland, he said he was saddened to see that but there were many backstories to these incidents which he was not knowledgeable of.

That would be rash. It’s not because I’m afraid. But I believe prudence is also a virtue

Concerning the crackdown on Catholics on the mainland, the Jesuit said he did not think it was wise for him to comment on matters that he did not fully understand without sufficient information.

“That would be rash. It’s not because I’m afraid. But I believe prudence is also a virtue,” he said.

A journalist asked Father Chow what advice he would give Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, who is also a Catholic. She has been criticized for losing touch with the people and refusing to listen to their views. He responded that he has not yet met the chief executive and it is not proper for him to advise her through a news conference.

Lam and other officials in Hong Kong have faced increasing pressure since China implemented a new security law that bans subversive and secessionist actions in the former British colony. Last July, Zheng Yanxiong, a senior Chinese politician who crushed a mainland democracy movement, was appointed to oversee its implementation.

When Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, certain democratic rights were guaranteed for at least 50 years under the “one country, two systems” agreement. However, the imposition of the security law practically brings Hong Kong under full Chinese administration and indirectly ends the agreement that allowed Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status.

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