Saturday, September 30, 2023

China pleased with Pope’s message, Hong Kong archbishop says

China says work with Vatican going ahead

The overture Pope Francis made to China earlier this month while he was in Mongolia was "well received" by Beijing's communist government, which has given a mainland bishop permission to visit Hong Kong, the bishop of Hong Kong said on Thursday.

Bishop Stephen Chow, who was made a cardinal on Saturday, also told Reuters in an interview that he hopes his new rank will help him improve relations between the Vatican and Beijing, which have been strained recently.

In the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar on Sept. 3, the pope sent greetings to China, calling its citizens a "noble" people and asking Catholics in China to be "good Christians and good citizens".

When he made the unscripted comments, Francis called up Chow and his predecessor as bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon, to flank him as he spoke.

"I was touched and I know the Holy Father was playing hard to get the message across to China. I was told later from some reliable source that his message was well received in China, even in the government," Chow said.

Chow, Hong Kong's top Catholic cleric, in April made the first visit to the Chinese capital by a bishop of the former British colony, which has 600,000 Catholics, in nearly 30 years.

"I think we have built up some type of relationships, some friendships," Chow said, speaking of his April visit

"I have invited bishop (Joseph) Li Shan, the bishop of Beijing to come down to Hong Kong. I think they are really considering it very seriously so hopefully this will happen," Chow said.

Asked if Li had received permission to travel, Chow said "He has, he has." Asked if Li would be coming, Chow said "I think this has to be finalised," but he repeated that Li had received permission.


Beijing has been following a policy of "Sinicisation" of religion, trying to root out foreign influences and enforce obedience to the Communist Party. There are an estimated 10-12 million Catholics in China.

A landmark 2018 agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops has been tenuous at best, with the Vatican complaining that Beijing has violated it several times.

Conservatives in the Church have accused the Vatican of selling out to the communist government by making the deal, which has been renewed twice. The Vatican says an imperfect deal is better than no dialogue at all.

In the interview, Chow said the Hong Kong Church has a mission to be a "bridging Church" between the West and China.

"So, as cardinal I hope that I will have a chance to be able to meet with a different level of people in mainland China so we can be able to get that message across," he said.

He said he hope he would be able to facilitate more and better dialogue between the Vatican and Beijing in order to avoid episodes such as when the new bishop of Shanghai was installed without consultation with the Vatican.

"I think that there should be more dialogue, more opportunities and more willingness to open up (because) when dialogue is not sufficient we make assumptions ... and that is where things break down. So if we talk more those assumptions can be tested out," he said.