A New Bishop for Hong Kong, but the China-Vatican Agreement Already Seems to be Dead.
22 Maggio 2021
Dear readers of Stilum Curiae, as you know, every two weeks Radio Roma Libera hosts my reflection in a podcast. This week the topic is the appointment of the new bishop of Hong Kong, two years after the death of his predecessor. Enjoy your reading and listening.
There is a new bishop in Hong Kong. In China, the persecution continues.
Hong Kong finally has a new bishop: Stephen Chow, a Jesuit. For two years there have been several moments in which it seemed that the appointment was about to be announced, followed punctually by reconsideration, but now finally the Holy See has made its choice. It has chosen an intermediate way, between those who wanted the office to be given to the auxiliary bishop, the Franciscan Joseph Ha, who is close to the democratic movement which has been opposed by and has been fighting against the dictatorial drift of the communist sort in the former British colony, and Peter Choy, a man whose appointment probably would have been very welcome to Beijing.
According to what we have been told, at different moments both Joseph Ha and Peter Choy received papal approval for the appointment. But Ha’s candidacy is said to have been dropped due to the discontent expressed by Beijing, which reproached the Franciscan for his support for pro-democracy movements, and Choy’s nomination was abandoned because on closer examination this seemed too acquiescent to the wishes of the mainland regime.
Chow is described by those who know him as a capable and cultured man. His curriculum vitae includes three important degrees, different assignments in the diocese, and above all he has spent much of his life working in the world of education. And this characteristic probably carried weight in the evaluation of the Holy See, because the Catholic Church in Hong Kong – for now – plays an important role in education in the region, with 300 schools that educate, catechize, and hold Masses. They are “equal schools” – recognized by the government in virtue of an agreement that goes back to the time of the British Governorate.
Now, with Beijing’s push to increase control over the city, there is the danger that the communist regime wants in some way to limit and reduce this role played by the Church, and Chow could be the right man to fight this battle. It should also be noted that – according to what we are told – the new bishop at first declined the honor (perhaps also thinking of the prohibition Saint Ignatius placed on the Jesuits against becoming bishops), and only when he was asked a second time did he consent. Indeed, we are told that Chow, who was Provincial of the Jesuits, said no twice: first to the possibility of a candidacy, and then to the nomination itself.
Born in Hong Kong, educated by the Irish Jesuits, he has a perspective that is closely tied to the reality in which he lives. And given the problem of free instruction, which is closely tied to the problem of the pastoral life of Catholics, his experience and his roots appear to be precious elements of his qualifications. Also because it is not at all certain how much longer the rule of “One country, two systems” will last, a rule which has guaranteed spaces of freedom within the former British colony.
Many of the democratic activists imprisoned in Hong Kong are Catholics. But the Church can do little about it, ever since the National Security Act came into force. During the first demonstrations against the law of extradition Cardinal John Tong called for respect for democracy and an independent investigation into the work of the police.
This appointment takes place against the background of the secret agreement for the appointment of bishops between the Holy See and the communist regime. But according to what Father Bernardo Cervellera, the editor of Asia News, says in in an interview with Franco Bechis: “This agreement is already dead. Even some Vatican officials admit this in a whisper. Since the time the agreement was signed more than two years ago, only three bishops have been named. In the meantime, the underground Church continues to be mercilessly targeted: bishops under house arrest, priests expelled from their parishes, churches and convents destroyed. It is a persecution that has no end in sight.”
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