Young people and religious freedom are the priorities of Hong Kong’s new bishop
by Paul Wang

Over the past few years, the local Catholic community has been split between pro-democracy activists and those who are submissive, if not favourable to Beijing's supremacy. This has led many young people away from Christian communities. Mgr Chow wants to be closer to young people and remind the government that religious freedom is a fundamental human right. He also prefers not to talk about the “suppression” of Christian communities in China. On the removal of crosses from churches he wants to be “cautious.” He will remember the dead of Tiananmen, at least in prayer. His episcopal ordination is scheduled for 4 December.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – At his first press conference as Hong Kong’s bishop-elect, Mgr Stephen Chow today said that his priorities will be to rebuild the relationship between the diocese and young people and defend religious freedom.

Card John Tong, former bishop and apostolic administrator of the diocese, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha were also present at the meeting with journalists. Bishop Ha himself had been tapped for the position of new bishop.

The commitment of many young people to the pro-democracy movement, its consequent suppression by Beijing with the national security law, the arrest and conviction of several Catholic pro-democracy leaders, had raised hope that the Church of Hong Kong and the Vatican might side with them.

Instead, the local Catholic community is split between pro-democracy activists and those who are submissive, if not in favour, of Beijing's supremacy. This situation led many to shy away from Christian communities.

For Bishop-elect Chow, who has considerable experience in the field of education, young people are among the most forgotten groups in society.

“We don’t have to agree with them, but we have to understand them and feel [for] them,” he said, adding that empathy would help “bring us back together.”

The new bishop also said that he would continue to defend religious freedom in the territory. “Religious freedom is a basic right.” He wants to ensure that is not forgotten when talking to the government. However, when asked about China, Mgr Chow was more evasive.

Pressed on whether Catholics in China are suppressed, he said he did not want to use the word “suppression,” but expressed hope that there would be more understanding and harmony in the future.

When asked for his opinion about the destruction of church crosses in mainland China, he replied: “I don’t think it’s wise for me to comment on matters, for example, China [that] I don’t quite understand... I don’t have enough information and knowledge.” To do so “would be rash. It’s not because I’m afraid. I believe prudence is also a virtue.”

Last year, Bishop-elect Chow said that he took part in demonstrations in Hong Kong commemorating the Tiananmen massacre of 4 June 1989.

A journalist asked him if he was going to join the vigil this year. Currently, the police are discussing with its organisers and seem inclined not to allow it on pandemic-related health grounds.

Chow said he wasn’t sure if it would be legal to do so, noting that “There are different means of commemoration. In the past, I would go and commemorate in the public arena. But there are times I couldn’t go,” he said. “So I pray. I pray for China; I pray for all those who passed in 1989.”

The bishop-elect also said that he does not know if his appointment – as many suspect – was approved by China, noting that it was a matter between China and the Vatican.

Anonymous Vatican sources said that China did not interfere in Chow’s appointment as the bishop of Hong Kong. His episcopal ordination is set for 4 December this year.