Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong 

Bishop of Hong Kong: ‘Bridge church’ challenged to connect diverse parts

In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica's Editor-in-Chief, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong discusses his visit to Beijing last April and the mission of the Diocese of Hong Kong in the Church.

Vatican News

“Our diocese has received from Pope John Paul II the mission to be a ‘bridge church’,” says Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow in an interview with Father Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Jesuit review La Civiltà Cattolica.

“The greatest challenge” for his particular Church, says Bishop Chow, “is to connect the different and opposing sides, to help them see themselves as human persons eager to be heard and understood. To help them listen to their counterparts with respect and empathy, in the hope that this will ease their discomfort and/or foster collaboration.”

The interview was published today—in Italian, English, and Chinese—on the eve of the presentation of the Chinese language volume “The Magisterium of Pope Francis. A guide to reading his Encyclicals and Apostolic Exhortations” by Father Spadaro.

The event, which will take place at the headquarters of La Civiltà Cattolica in Rome, will feature an address by the Pro-Prefect for the Section for First Evangelisation and the New Particular Churches of the Dicastery for Evangelisation, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

The trip to Beijing

In the interview, Bishop Chow says he sees his visit to Beijing as a continuation of the trip made in 1994 by the then-Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Baptist Wu. The fact of being a “bridging Church,” Bishop Chow observes, “was first mentioned by the Venerable Matteo Ricci,” a Jesuit missionary in China between the 16th and 17th centuries.

“Although since the establishment of the Provisional Agreement” between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, an official channel has been established between the respective State Departments of the Holy See and China, he adds, “we see our trip on 17 April as a bridge, at the diocesan level, between Beijing and Hong Kong. Among the most notable fruits of that visit was the personal contact between the prelates of the two dioceses and the rekindling of cooperation in several areas. The collaboration we agreed upon, strongly desired by both sides, gives us hope and determination to work together.”

The Provisional Agreement is not dead

Regarding the Provisional Agreement, Bishop Chow says that, in his opinion, “it is not dead as some seem to have suggested. But the discrepancies of views between the two sides on the assignment of bishops to other dioceses could be a factor to be better understood.” Therefore, he suggests, “if more regular and in-depth talks were held in the future, perhaps clarifications would result.”

The meaning of the ‘Sinicisation’ of the Church

Asked about the meaning of the so-called “sinicization” of the Church, he said that there is a need to continue dialogue on the subject because the Church on the continent is “still trying to understand what meaning this concept should take on for itself” and “has not come to a definitive conclusion to date”.

“According to one of the government officials we met during the trip,” he continues, “sinicization resembles our concept of enculturation. So, I think it is better not to jump to conclusions about sinicization for now.”

Rights and dignity

He then noted that “rather than the language of ‘rights’, we prefer to emphasize the cultivation of ‘dignity’, and a healthy sense of ‘duty’ to community, society, and country. It is our duty to promote and ensure the dignity of others, not just our own.”

Bishop Chow continues, “That said, China, like the rest of the world, must learn to do better in promoting the dignity of all at home and abroad, although it must be credited with doing an extraordinary job in eliminating material poverty and illiteracy in the country.”

Matteo Ricci esteemed in China

Speaking of Matteo Ricci, the Bishop says that “he is still known and esteemed in China, inside the Church and outside. He is highly respected by Catholics in China, and is also held in high esteem by Chinese intellectuals.” He notes that even President Xi paid homage to Ricci in one of his speeches to the international community.”

Pope Francis and China

Regarding Pope Francis, he says that many Catholics “appreciate what he is doing for the Church in China,” adding, “The bishops I met during this trip have a positive disposition towards him. But those who are against the Provisional Agreement seem rather prejudiced’ towards him.

“However,” he explains, “from what I have seen and read, as well as from the attitude of the Catholics I met during the trip, I would say that a large majority of Catholics in China are faithful to Pope Francis and hope that the Provisional Agreement will bring desirable changes for their Church, not least a meeting between Pope Francis and President Xi.”

Bishop Chow notes, “The Chinese government also has a lot of respect for Pope Francis. Its members particularly appreciate his open-mindedness and inclusiveness.”

The Bishop concludes, “Since Pope Francis has expressed his love for the Chinese people and his hope to visit China, it would not be surprising if the Chinese government would also like to see this come true. We pray that this will happen, not just for Pope Francis or for China, but for the world.”

The full text of Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan can be found in Italian, English, and Chinese on the website of La Civiltà Cattolica.

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12 May 2023, 12:32