The Bishop of Hong Kong visited the Chinese capital, at the invitation of the masters of Beijing, from April 17 to 21, 2023. A much-awaited visit which comes at a time when relations between China and the Vatican are stalled, and when the future of Chinese Catholics seems compromised by President Xi Jinping's desire to sinicize religion in the country.
The Bishop of Hong Kong’s visit to Beijing began in the name of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), famous Jesuit and pioneer of evangelization in the Middle Kingdom. Bishop Stephen Chow – a Jesuit, like Matteo Ricci – arrived on April 17, 2023 in the Chinese capital.
He was welcomed by the local ordinary, Msgr. Li Shan, a prelate who also became president of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics a few months ago, the entity in the hands of the Communist Party which all members of the clergy are expected to join, willingly or by force.
A long-awaited five-day trip, as Catholics in Hong Kong fear that Beijing will reserve the same fate for them over the medium term as their brothers in mainland China. Officially, it was not a question of relations between China and the Holy See, but of “exchanges” between the dioceses: “I hope that our two cities will cooperate more in the future,” said the bishop Hong Kong, before adding that he hoped that this visit to Beijing “would not be the last.”
Moreover, on the last day of his visit to the continent, Bishop Chow officially invited the Archbishop of Beijing to visit him at Port des Parfums. A way of trying on the ground to reconnect the thread of diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See, weakened for a fortnight.
It was during the Easter celebrations that the Secretariat of State learned of the transfer – decided unilaterally – of Msgr. Shen Bin to the archbishop's seat in Shanghai, a decision made by the red mandarins who do not seem to have taken into account the provisional agreement signed with the Vatican in 2018 on the joint appointment of bishops, which has been renewed twice since.
“The diocese of Hong Kong is in close contact with the Holy See, so implicitly, this visit makes it possible to relaunch Sino-Vatican relations,” explains Lo Lung-kwong, teacher-researcher at the Faculty of Theology of Hong Kong.
Bishop Chow also tried to respond indirectly to the attempt to sinicize religion, in the name of fidelity to the motherland: “The faithful must love both the Church and their country; whether one lives in Hong Kong or in China, one must love one’s country,” stressed the prelate, anxious to spare the masters of Beijing - attached to the principle of the unity of the country - and to guarantee a minimum of freedom to the Catholics.
A real balancing act that sees the question of the future of Taiwan, but also of Catholics who are not part of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, take second place. But as a Chinese proverb says: “A moment of patience can preserve great misfortunes, a fit of impatience can destroy an entire life.”