HONG KONG-CHINA Cardinal Chow, hope for Hong Kong and a bridge to China

Also in the Catholic communities of mainland China there is great joy over the election of Pope Francis. The p. Criveller, PIME missionary and sinologist: “An important sign of closeness to the suffering that the National Security Law has caused in the metropolis.” With Zen and John Tong (both over 80 years old) Hong Kong will have three cardinals.

Hong Kong () – The appointment of Msgr. Stephen Chow as a cardinal, announced yesterday by Pope Francis at the end of the Angelus prayer, was joyfully welcomed in Hong Kong, but also in many Catholic communities in mainland China. Late in the afternoon in Hong Kong, the diocese issued a statement to spread the news, saying that “Bishop Chow asks the faithful to continue to pray for him and the diocese of Hong Kong.”

The mainland Chinese Catholic website Xinde -a benchmark for community life in China- also began today with the news of the new cardinal from Hong Kong. In the headline, he expressly referred to a “double joy”: in fact, he recalled that a few days ago Chow also was chosen by Pope Francis from among the members of the Synod. An important note if one takes into account that -unlike in 2018- none of the bishops of mainland China will be able to participate in the work that will take place in Rome. In addition to a photo of the recent Chow’s trip to Beijing (the first official trip by a bishop to Hong Kong since his reinstatement to China in 1997), Xinde He also published two photos from other meetings prior to his appointment as Bishop of Hong Kong, which bear witness to how close he has always been to the Church in China as a Jesuit provincial. However, no reference to Chow’s appointment as cardinal appears on the official website of the patriotic association Chinese Catholic.

Chow will be the fourth cardinal in Hong Kong history, of which two are still alive: Card. Joseph Zen (91 years old) and Card. John Tong (who will be 84 in a few days). The first cardinal was card. John Baptist Wuappointed by John Paul II in 1988, who died in 2002.

The current bishop of Hong Kong called to be part of the College of Cardinals is 63 years old and began his ministry as bishop of the diocese on December 4, 2021, in the difficult context generated in Hong Kong by the National Security Law, with which Beijing intends to crush pro-democracy movements. Of a prudent character, firmly convinced of the importance of avoiding divisions, Monsignor Chow has not hidden in recent months the difficulties that the metropolis is currently going through. In an article published in the diocesan weekly Sunday Examiner In the summer of 2022, recognizing the change in the situation, he asked the faithful to be “resilient as the grass that grows between the cracks.” And in his last Easter message, recalling the more than 6,000 arrests for the 2019 demonstrations, he boldly wished that “those who are in jail see the light“. Also in light of this, his appointment takes on special significance for Hong Kong, as Father Gianni Criveller, PIME missionary and sinologist, points out in the commentary below.

The announcement of the cardinal appointment of Stephen Chow, Bishop of Hong Kong, is important because the city and the diocese of Hong Kong are in one of the most difficult moments in their history. Therefore, this appointment says that the Pope and the Holy See are close and attentive to the bishop, the diocese and the people of Hong Kong. Since the pro-democracy demonstrations began in 2019 and were suppressed with the introduction of the National Security Law on July 1, 2020, the Pope has not intervened at any time. However, many of the detained pro-democracy leaders are committed Catholics and Card. Joseph Zen, who supported the pro-democracy movement, was arrested and convicted (but never jailed).

The Pope’s silence saddened many Catholics. The long wait to appoint the new bishop (the diocese of Hong Kong has been vacant for almost three years) was also experienced with concern by the Catholic community. With this gesture, the Pope is saying that Hong Kong occupies an important place among his concerns, as is also shown by his important and warm meeting with Card. Zen on January 6.

Francis elevated a Chinese bishop to a cardinal, the only one he can create a cardinal without immediate political complications. Hong Kong, with the election of Bishop Chow, becomes a city with no less than three cardinals, perhaps the city with the most cardinals after Rome.

Last April, Monsignor Chow made a trip to Beijing with his closest collaborators, where he met with Monsignor Joseph Li Shan and the Catholic community, in memory of Father Matteo Ricci, who is now venerable. It is possible that with this appointment, the Pope also wants to give the Bishop of Hong Kong, who moves with great prudence, and with always moderate words in a truly difficult situation, a role of bridge between the universal Church, the Holy See and the Chinese church. After all, it is precisely a bridge – the modern Tsing-Ma Bridge, which connects the island of Tsing Yi with the mainland in Hong Kong – that stands out in the episcopal coat of arms that Chow chose two years ago along with the Jesuit motto “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam”: “The mission of the Church -wrote the recently appointed Cardinal Chow in his explanation- is to be a bridge between the different parts so that, when crossing it, it helps them to find each other”.

* PIME missionary and sinologist

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