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Hong Kong's new bishop promises bridge building, healing

Catholics including the clergy were divided when some defended Chinese actions to suppress the city's pro-democracy protests

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: December 06, 2021 05:13 AM GMT

Updated: December 19, 2021 04:35 PM GMT

Hong Kong's new bishop promises bridge building, healing

Cardinal John Tong Hon, the diocesan apostolic administrator, places a mitre on Bishop Stephen Chow as he is ordained the new bishop of Hong Kong at Immaculate Conception Cathedral on Dec. 4. (Photo: Hong Kong Diocese)

The newly installed Catholic bishop of Hong Kong has promised action to heal Catholics and the wider society, divided because of the Chinese action to suppress a two-year-long protest seeking democratic freedoms.

Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan, 62, who was consecrated on Dec. 4, also stressed the Church’s role in the formation of young people in the city, which has witnessed pro-democracy protests led by university students in the past two years. He said he would work harder to foster the next generation of Catholics.

“It is my desire to be a bridge between the government and the Church in Hong Kong, and between the Catholic Church, fellow Christian denominations and other religions,” he told some 550 people gathered for the consecration ceremony at Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

It is through understanding, respect and trust that collaboration can become a living culture in the community, he said.

Some 400,000 Catholics in Hong Kong Diocese witnessed a rift among themselves when Beijing imposed a tough new national security law last year to help security forces to suppress the mounting pro-democracy protests.

A section of Catholics, just like people in the wider Hong Kong society, openly opposed the Chinese administrative action, saying it smothered democratic freedoms, while others supported it as being essential to maintain social order and peace.

As a local Church, we would very much like to take up a meaningful role to foster healing and connections in our Church and for our hometown

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the Catholic chief executive of Hong Kong, and a handful of Catholic government bureau heads were among the attendees at the consecration of Bishop Chow.

Bishop Chow’s first address as bishop of the city stressed the role of youth formation. “A Church without young people has no future and a Church without spirituality becomes too dogmatized and formalized,” he said.

He also spoke about the Church’s healing mission. “As a local Church, we would very much like to take up a meaningful role to foster healing and connections in our Church and for our hometown,” he said.

Bishop Chow said he sees his appointment as part of "God’s salvific mission through the Church, for Hong Kong and for our neighbors.”

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He also asked for “prayers, support and collaboration” to help him “carry out this mission” and promised his best with “all his heart, his soul and his mind.”

Cardinal John Tong Hon, the diocesan apostolic administrator, led the consecration Mass. He concelebrated it with retired Hong Kong bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing and Trappist Father Paul Kao, abbot of Our Lady of Joy Abbey in Hong Kong.

At the ceremony, the apostolic letter of appointment was read by Monsignor Javier Herrera-Corona, the Holy See representative in Hong Kong, in English. Father Lawrence Lee, the diocesan chancellor, read its Chinese translation.

Bishop Chow, a former Jesuit regional superior, said he considers consultation, listening, dialogue and communal discernment essential for pastoral planning.

Pope Francis appointed Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, then Jesuit provincial of the Chinese Province, as Hong Kong’s new bishop on May 17 this year. The diocese had been vacant since the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung on Jan. 3, 2019. Bishop Chow becomes the ninth bishop of Hong Kong.

Trained in education psychology, he was an honorary assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong from 2007-14 and a guest professor of the Holy Spirit Seminary College of the Theology and Philosophy since 2012. He was part of the management committee of two prominent Jesuit-run high schools in Hong Kong for the last 15 years.

“With great excitement and joy, we welcome our new bishop. A long-awaited moment indeed, and certainly an amazing gift from God. We anticipate a new era with momentum and rejuvenation for Hong Kong Diocese,” Catherine Yeung, who chairs a local parish council, told UCA News.

We hope Bishop Chow will give more direction on youth formation, so the Church as a whole will walk along with the younger generations

Alex Fong, who heads a diocesan commission, said he looks forward to collaborating with the new bishop and hopes the local Catholic Church will be united and together move forward in the evangelization mission under his leadership in this difficult political time.

Catholic high school teacher Teresa Young said the new bishop, an educator, understands the difficulties of educators.

“We hope Bishop Chow will give more direction on youth formation, so the Church as a whole will walk along with the younger generations,” she said.

Kevin Lai, a young Catholic, said he wishes to see the bishop sharing his “thoughts and values with young people as they need more guidance on morals and ethics in this unstable and confusing society.”

As pandemic restrictions allowed only 50 percent of seats to be filled at the cathedral and required all to observe restrictive measures, thousands of Catholics across the territory and worldwide watched the ordination ceremony via a livestream.

Catholics account for about 5.5 percent of the 7.39 million people in Hong Kong and live in 52 parishes. They include an estimated 183,000 Filipinos and 34,000 Catholics of other nationalities.

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