29th September 2023 – (Hong Kong) The recent overture made by Pope Francis to China during his visit to Mongolia earlier this month has been “well received” by the communist government in Beijing, according to Archbishop Stephen Chow, the leader of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong. In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Archbishop Chow, who is set to become a cardinal on Saturday, expressed his hopes that his new rank would contribute to improving relations between the Vatican and Beijing, which have faced strains in recent times.
During his visit to the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar on 3rd September, Pope Francis conveyed greetings to China, commending its citizens as a “noble” people and urging Chinese Catholics to be “good Christians and good citizens.” The Pope, in an impromptu address, invited Archbishop Chow and his predecessor, Cardinal John Tong Hon, to stand alongside him as he delivered his message.
Archbishop Chow described the Pope’s gesture as touching and emphasised the Holy Father’s determination to convey a message to China. He revealed that he later learned, from a reliable source, that the Pope’s message was well received in China, even by the government.
In April, Archbishop Chow became the first bishop from the former British colony of Hong Kong to visit the Chinese capital in nearly three decades. Reflecting on his visit, he expressed optimism about the relationships and friendships that have been established. He further mentioned that he had extended an invitation to Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing to visit Hong Kong, stating that the invitation is being seriously considered.
When asked about Bishop Li’s permission to travel, Archbishop Chow confirmed that he had indeed received permission. However, he added that the finalization of the visit is still pending.
In an attempt to Sinicize religion and enforce obedience to the Communist Party, Beijing has pursued a policy of eliminating foreign influences. China is home to an estimated 10-12 million Catholics. The Vatican’s 2018 agreement with China regarding the appointment of bishops has been tenuous, with the Vatican accusing Beijing of violating the agreement multiple times.
Critics within the Church have accused the Vatican of compromising with the communist government through the deal, which has been renewed twice. The Vatican, on the other hand, argues that an imperfect deal is preferable to no dialogue at all.
Archbishop Chow stated that the Hong Kong Church sees itself as a “bridging Church” between the West and China, with a mission to facilitate dialogue. As a cardinal, he expressed his hope for opportunities to meet with individuals at different levels in mainland China to effectively convey the intended message. He emphasized the importance of increased dialogue and openness, as assumptions and misunderstandings can lead to breakdowns in communication. By engaging in more extensive conversations, these assumptions can be addressed and resolved.