(Hong Kong/Beijing—April 26, 2023) Bishop Stephen Chow sau-yan of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong led a delegation to Beijing for a five-day visit last week. This is the first Bishop’s visit to Beijing since the 1997 Hong Kong handover to China.
Bishop Stephen Chow sau-yan and his delegation attended a vesper at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Archdiocese of Beijing. Joining him was auxiliary bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, O.F.M., and vicar general, Father Peter Choy Wai-man. The bishop of the Diocese of Beijing and chairman of the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association Joseph Li welcomed him. There were dozens of faithful at the cathedral. Bishop Stephen Chow sau-yan, bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, and others read scriptures and sang hymns together. Afterward, they prayed in silence and came down from the altar, accompanied by Joseph Li Shan, and blessed the faithful.
Response from those attending
Some faithful in attendance pointed out that they welcomed the three Hong Kong bishops’ visit to Beijing and described Stephen Chow as kind and pious. They were glad they received the blessings of the three bishops. Other faithful viewed the visit as a positive development.
Purpose of Bishop Stephen Chow’s visit
Before his departure, Stephen Chow sau-yan told the media that the trip was an invitation to Beijing from Joseph Li Shan. Chow hoped to enhance the communication between the Church in the mainland and other churches, especially with the Church in Asia. He met with the Beijing bishops, clergy, and laity. He also visited the Beijing Major Seminary, the National Seminary of the Catholic Church in China, and responsible religious affairs units in the mainland. Before returning to Hong Kong, Chow planned to pay homage and visit the tomb of Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, SJ.
Days prior to his visit, the Holy See announced that the Chinese authorities unilaterally appointed a new bishop of the Diocese of Shanghai. The reassignment violated the bilateral agreement on the appointment of bishops between the Vatican and China. Previously, China appointed another bishop in a Diocese in Jiangxi, which was not recognized by the Holy See.
The first visit
Bishop Stephen Chow sau-yan’s trip to Beijing is the first time a serving Hong Kong bishop has visited since the 1997 handover. The last time a bishop of the Hong Kong diocese visited Beijing was in March 1985 by Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung. Hong Kong was a British colony at the time. None of the subsequent three bishops of the diocese of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, John Tong Hon, and Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, officially paid a visit to Beijing as bishops.
Religious freedom in Hong Kong
At present, Hong Kong still retains religious freedom, but Beijing has been trying to tighten its control of Hong Kong Catholics.
~Gao Zhensai, Special Correspondent of ChinaAid