Chow in Beijing on 17 April: bridging the divide and its challenges
Hong Kong’s bishop accepted the invitation from the Archdiocese of Beijing. The last visit by a Hong Kong bishop, Mgr John Tong, was in 2008 for the Olympics, but on that occasion the latter was not allowed to meet Archbishop Li Shan of Beijing, who now heads the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The visiting delegation will include Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha, who in 2019 was very close to young Hong Kong protesters crushed by the China’s national security law.
Milan (AsiaNews) – Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong will travel to Beijing on April 17 for a five-day visit.
The diocese made the announcement yesterday in an official statement indicating that Bishop Chow accepted an official invitation from Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing. Hong Kong’s Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha and the Vicar General Fr Peter Choy will accompany him.
For the Church in China, this is a very important moment. As AsiaNews reported a few months ago, Card John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung paved the way for these visits back in the 1980s. But in recent years, the political climate has made them a much trickier affair; the last visit to Beijing by a Hong Kong prelate took place in fact in 2008 the then Coadjutor Bishop John Tong.
On that occasion, the prelate was not allowed to meet Bishop Li Shan, who had been appointed a year earlier with the assent of Benedict XVI. A few months later, Tong succeeded Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun at the helm of the diocese.
“I was at least able to greet him by telephone,” Bishop Tong told AsiaNews at the time, “although – out of fear that the line was being monitored – our conversation was a bit generic. I told him that we support him and pray for his diocese.”
The visit this time will be very different, considering that last summer, Bishop Li Shan was appointed president of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the official Catholic body set up by the Communist Party.
Inspired by an image he included in his episcopal coat of arms, Bishop Chow reiterated at the time of this announcement that the mission of the Diocese of Hong Kong is to be a bridge promoting exchanges and interactions with mainland China.
In yesterday’s statement, the diocese explains that in addition to the meeting with Archbishop Li Shan in Beijing, Bishop Chow and the delegation will meet other bishops, members of the clergy and local laity. They will also visit the major seminary in Beijing, the national seminary of the Catholic Church in China and other relevant entities that touch religious affairs.
Upon his arrival in the Chinese capital on 17 April, Bishop Chow will take part in Vespers and celebrate a thanksgiving Mass in the cathedral. The visit will also include praying at the tomb of Fr Matteo Ricci, the great Jesuit missionary of the 17th century declared venerable a few months ago.
The official statement goes on to say that “visits to organisations that promote cultural exchanges and gatherings with Hong Kong friends working in Beijing will also be scheduled.” It also calls on “brothers, sisters and friends in Christ to pray for the success of the visit.”
One aspect of the trip that is worth mentioning is the fact that Bishop Chow will be accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha and Vicar General Fr Peter Choy.
During the protests that shook Hong Kong in 2019 and led to the harsh crackdown by Beijing, Bishop Ha repeatedly expressed his support for the young people who had taken to the streets..
In 2020 he delivered the last homily at the annual Mass held as part of the vigil for the victims of Tiananmen Square. Afterwards, it became impossible to hold such events under the infamous national security law imposed by Beijing, which has led to the arrest and incarceration of pro-democracy leaders (the latest is Catholic trade union leader Elizabeth Tang who was detained yesterday).
The presence of Bishop Ha alongside Bishop Chow in Beijing is a sign that in seeking to be a bridge, the Church of Hong Kong has not renegued its recent history.
At such a difficult moment for Hong Kong, what he wrote a year ago about the increasingly narrow room for freedom probably applies to the invitation: “Accepting the changing context as reality does not mean endorsing it. But learning to discern new possibilities with a creative mindset amid tensions from the changing context is the way forward.”