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Hong Kong bishop starts first China visit

Visit of Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan is expected to improve relations between Christian communities
Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong started his first visit to mainland China on April 17

Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong started his first visit to mainland China on April 17. (Photo: Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific)

Published: April 18, 2023 08:39 AM GMT
Updated: April 18, 2023 11:27 AM GMT

Hong Kong’s Catholic bishop has started his first visit to mainland China amid allegations of the communist regime flouting the terms of a Vatican-China deal over the appointment of bishops.

Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong began a five-day trip by visiting Beijing Archdiocese in the Chinese capital on April 17, reported Fides news agency.

The Jesuit bishop is leading a delegation from Hong Kong that includes auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing and diocesan vicar Father Peter Choy Wai-man.

In Beijing, Chow attended a prayer vigil for the beatification of Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary (1552-1610) who is among the founding figures of Catholic missions in China.

On Dec. 17 last year, Pope Francis declared Ricci a ‘venerable’ — the second stage of a three-step sainthood process in the Catholic Church after authorizing the proclamation of his heroic virtues.

During the visit on the invitation of Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing, Chow and the Hong Kong diocesan delegation are expected to meet Li, other local bishops, and religious and clergy in order to promote exchanges and interaction between Catholics in Hong Kong and mainland China.

While announcing the visit on March 9, Chow said his visit would “underscore the mission of the Diocese of Hong Kong to be a bridge Church and promote exchanges and interactions between the two sides.”

The delegation is scheduled to visit the Beijing Major Seminary, the national seminary of the Catholic Church in China, and other relevant institutions concerning religious affairs.

Chow will also participate in evening prayers and celebrate a thanksgiving Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing. The Hong Kong delegation will also visit the tomb of Ricci.

Before the prayer vigil for Ricci on April 17, the Catholic Church in Beijing set up an exhibition of pictures documenting the life and works of the missionary. It is part of a series of activities to promote the missionary spirit and work of Matteo Ricci.

Chow’s visit to Beijing comes about two weeks after the Vatican accused the Chinese regime of violating the Vatican-China agreement by installing Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen as the bishop of Shanghai without Vatican approval.

Bishop Bin is believed to have close ties with the Chinese Communist Party. He was elected chairman of the state-run bishops' conference during the 10th National Congress on Catholicism in China in August 2022. 

China’s state-run Catholic Church bodies — the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China — are not recognized by the Vatican.

Archbishop Li of Beijing was among the senior Catholic leaders who attended the installation ceremony of Bin in Shanghai on April 4.

China severed formal ties with the Vatican in the 1950s following the communist takeover. Since then, the appointment of bishops has been a thorny issue.

In 2018, the Vatican signed a secretive deal with China for two years which reportedly allows the appointment of bishops with approval from both China and the Vatican. The deal was renewed in 2020 and 2022, each time for two years.

The Vatican says it aims to unite millions of Catholics in China divided between state-run and Vatican-approved churches.

China’s Catholic leaders who opposed the deal termed it a “betrayal” of underground Catholics who remained loyal to the Vatican despite state purges.

However, in November, just a month after the latest renewal, the Vatican issued a public statement of regret, essentially accusing the Chinese government of violating the agreement when Bishop John Peng Weizhao of Yujiang was installed as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi, "a diocese not recognized by the Holy See."  

Since the signing of the deal, six bishops have been ordained with approval from both parties. The Vatican has recognized several bishops ordained “illicitly” earlier without a papal mandate. Media reports say about 40 dioceses in China remain without bishops.

Bishop Chow of Hong Kong, a diocese under the direct jurisdiction of the pope, was appointed and installed after about two years of delay.

The Vatican reportedly overlooked Hong Kong’s Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing for the post after he lent support to the pro-democracy movement in the city that began in 2019.

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