(Hong Kong—March 20, 2023) At the invitation of Bishop Joseph Li Shan of the Catholic Diocese of Beijing, Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong will visit Beijing on April 17. This five-day visit is the first visit Hong Kong Diocese visit to Beijing in nearly 30 years.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing and vicar general Choy Wai-man will accompany Bishop Stephen Chow on his visit.
Catholic Hong Kong Diocese Weekly Newspaper reported on March 9 that the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong stated that it had received an invitation from the Diocese of Beijing as early as last year. The Hong Kong Diocese accepted the other party’s invitation.
Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan, along with three priests, the delegation will also include the bishop’s assistant, Wong Ka-chun. Among the four, the auxiliary bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing is considered more open-minded and sympathetic to the movement for democracy. In 2020, he attended a prayer meeting hosted by a church that supported Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement and sent a message to Hong Kong people not to despair amid disappointment.
In addition to meeting Bishop Joseph Li Shan of the Beijing Diocese, approved by the Pope, the delegation will meet with other local bishops, clergy, and laity. The trip also includes visiting Beijing Major Seminary, the National Seminary of the Catholic Church in China, and other relevant units responsible for managing religious affairs in the mainland. But the outside world has not been informed of the latter’s specific rank of religious affairs-related teams.
At his ordination, Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan said he “desires to be a bridge between the Hong Kong government and the Church, and between the Catholic Church and Christian denominations and other religions.”
The itinerary of Bishop Chow’s visit to Beijing includes attending a vespers service on the night of his arrival in Beijing. He will also preside over a thanksgiving Mass in the city’s cathedral. Kung Kao Po reported that Stephen Chow Sau-yan would pay homage and visit the tomb of Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, declared venerable last year, who came to China in the Ming Dynasty. The current Pope Francis has publicly praised the spirit of Matteo Ricci many times. Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan also belongs to the Society of Jesus to which Father Matteo Ricci belongs. In addition, they will also visit different organizations that promote cultural exchange and gather with Hong Kong citizens working in Beijing.
Bishop Chow expressed that this trip will continue the mission of the diocese of Hong Kong as a bridge and promote communication and exchanges between the two sides to enhance understanding. He asked brothers and sisters, and friends in the Lord to pray for this visit.
On May 17, 2021, 61-year-old Stephen Chow Sau-yan was appointed by Pope Francis as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong.
Some data indicated that it had been nearly 30 years since the last time (1994) the bishop of the Hong Kong diocese visited Beijing. The bishop of Hong Kong at that time, Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung, was invited by Beijing in March 1985 to visit his hometown. When he visited Beijing in 1994, he was interviewed by Chinese officials in the management of religious affairs and officials in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs. Bishop Wu’s trip to Beijing was the first visit to mainland China by a Hong Kong bishop since 1949.
The subsequent three bishops of the diocese of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, John Tong Hon, and Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, did not officially visit Beijing as bishops.
Professor Ying Fuk-tsang of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong studies the church-state relationship in contemporary China. He pointed out in an interview with the Hong Kong Christian Times that the scale of John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung’s visit to Beijing was more significant than this visit; it transpired because of the invitation from the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Chinese government. However, Stephen Chow Sau-yan’s visit to Beijing this time was an invitation from the Catholic Diocese of Beijing.
According to Ying’s analysis, since Bishop Joseph Li Shan of the Beijing Diocese is the current president of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Stephen Chow Sau-yan’s visit is, to some extent, an exchange between the Hong Kong Diocese and the Patriotic Catholic Association. He believes that the way the press release of the Hong Kong Diocese was written confines the exchange to the religious level first. It is worth considering whether the Hong Kong Diocesan delegation will conveniently meet with the United Front Work Department or Chinese government officials. This is a possibility, though he is unsure whether it will happen, or if it happens, will the itinerary be publicized? This is something worth keeping an eye on.
Since Xi Jinping came to power, there have been no signs of easing up on Catholics, Christians, and other religious spaces. Many Hong Kong Catholics have expressed concern that Beijing is trying to tighten its grip on the Hong Kong Catholic Church.
~Gao Zhensai, Special Correspondent of ChinaAid