The Vatican’s decision comes after more than two years, and is seen as “Solomonic”, balanced between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps. The new prelate has great experience in the field of education, a new battlefield between Catholics and mainland China.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Hong Kong has a new bishop, Fr Stephen Chow Sau-yan, the Provincial of the Chinese Province[*] of the Society of Jesus.
The Holy See Press Office announced Pope Francis’s long-overdue decision at noon today. The new prelate will take over from Card John Tong Hon, who served as the Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong since the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung in 2019.
In Hong Kong, the first reactions from the faithful and the clergy are positive. The new bishop’s appointment is seen as a Solomonic and balanced choice by the Vatican after more than two years in which Hong Kong’s Catholic community was divided over two possible candidates: Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha, a Franciscan close to the students and the pro-democracy movement, and Fr Peter Choy, a scholar considered close to the authorities in mainland China.
Although late in coming, the Vatican decision seems to strike balance between the two camps and might help reconcile any differences within the diocesan community.
According to some local priests, the new bishop is a quiet type, ‘firm in the faith of the Catholic Church and very committed in the field of Catholic education.”
For various observers, education will likely become the next battleground between Catholics and mainland China.
During protests in 2019 against a proposed extradition bill and in favour of democracy, Catholic education was blamed for young people engaging in the pro-democracy movement.
Many expect that Beijing will use the Hong Kong national security law to intervene in educational matters. The Catholic Church runs more than 300 schools in the former British colony.
As a priest, Bishop-elect Chow experienced Beijing’s negative pressure back in 2011 when the Jesuits tried to set up a Catholic university in Hong Kong on the site of a former military camp in Fanling.
The then, strongly pro-China chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, changed the land use, and stopped the project.
Still, as Jesuit Provincial, Bishop-elect Chow nurtured friendly relations with China. During the pandemic that broke out in the mainland last year, his province, along with the Jesuit District Council of the United States and Canada, sent medical aid and donations to Hubei, the epicentre of the pandemic.
According to the Holy See Press Office, Bishop-elect Cho was born in Hong Kong on 7 August 1959. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1984, after graduating with a Bachelor's and a Master's Degree in Psychology from the University of Minnesota (United States).
During his novitiate, he completed a Master's degree in Philosophy from the Milltown Institute in Dublin. He also earned a Master's degree in Organisational Development from Loyola University in Chicago (1993–1995) and a doctorate in Doctorate in Human Development and Psychology (Ed. PhD) from Harvard (2000-2006).
Ordained priest in 1994, he worked in two Jesuit colleges in Hong Kong and Wah Yan (Kowloon), and was Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong and the Diocesan Seminary of Holy Spirit.
He became a member of the Diocesan Board of Education 2017. On 1 January 2018, he was appointed Provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus.
[*] The Chinese Province includes Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China.