Jesuit Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan was consecrated Bishop of Hong Kong last December after the seat had been vacant for nearly three years. She brought a glimmer of hope among Catholics in the Special Administrative Region of China in the face of political uncertainty and chaos.
At his consecration, the new leader of Hong Kong’s roughly 400,000 Catholics promised to heal the wounds of the deeply polarized city by building bridges.
He reiterated his priorities as a Church leader in Hong Kong in an interview he gave me — the first and most elaborate interview he has given to the media since becoming a bishop. It first appeared in the February issue of the Milanese magazine World and Mission (World and Mission), magazine of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).
Bishop Chow is aware of the socio-political importance of the Catholic community in Hong Kong despite its numerical size. In fact, many of Hong Kong’s leaders on both sides of its political spectrum – pro-government and pro-democracy camps – are Catholic or have a close association with Catholic institutions such as schools, parishes and organizations.
For example, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, is a practicing Catholic who attended the bishop’s consecration ceremony. On the other hand, prominent champions of democracy in the city include Catholics Martin Lee, Jimmy Lai and many others who have been jailed since Beijing imposed the national security law on July 1, 2020.
As head of the Church of Hong Kong, Bishop Chow must walk a fine line in the fractured city. Under these circumstances, his reluctance to grant interviews to the press is understandable. But he agreed to speak to me as a brother in faith in the same mission of evangelization.
I am not a diplomat; a bishop is not a diplomat. Sometimes we have to be diplomats. But our first concern is to discern the will of God and to accomplish it.
My goal has never been to corner him with sensitive issues, but to help global Catholic communities see his situation and understand his priorities as he works to heal wounds and build bridges between communities of Hong Kong.
His Jesuit education and training, Bishop Chow said, encourages him to work for human dignity and social justice. “I find it unacceptable that basic human dignity is ignored, exploited or sidelined,” he said.
He said that a bishop is not a diplomat but sometimes he has to be a diplomat to do God’s will. “I am not a diplomat; a bishop is not a diplomat. Sometimes we have to be diplomats. But our first concern is to discern the will of God and to do it.
He remembered Jesuit Father Alfred Deignan as his mentor who taught him compassion, patience and hope, and Father James Hurley as the one who inspired him to engage in human rights work. the man.
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Bishop Chow said the Tiananmen Square tragedy in 1989 affected him deeply and he joined the rights group Amnesty International at that time. He is no longer a member of Amnesty.
“The 1989 incident really affected me. It put me in touch with my ethnic identity, with who I am; my fate and the fate of the Chinese people were linked by this incident,” he said.
His reference to Jesuit Fathers Deignan and Hurley shows how Catholicism has been shaped in Hong Kong over the past 50 years. Father Deignan (1927-2018) was a highly influential and valued educator who served in Hong Kong for 65 years. Father Hurley (1926-2020), a social justice advocate, had been a missionary in Hong Kong since 1952.
Also noteworthy is Bishop Chow’s explicit mention of the Tiananmen Incident as a life turning point. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong administration since 2020 has banned the annual Tiananmen Anniversary Vigil and Commemoration at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.
Bishop Chow says Ignatian spirituality has “a great impact” on him “on how I see God, my relationship with him, and God’s relationship with the world. We are sinners, but loved. This gives us hope! This inner freedom allows us to move forward. No one is totally indifferent to inner freedom, me neither.
He said he accepted the role of bishop as part of a “process of seeking inner freedom. I didn’t really want [be a bishop]. But in this process, I was called to obedience; i.e. letting go. »
“Ignatian spirituality expands my thinking. If spirituality is not embodied, it remains in the air. It must connect to who I am.
Share your vision with your peers…but at the same time, don’t limit yourself to listening to like-minded people, or you’ll share the same blind spots
Bishop Chow’s education at Harvard University taught him how cultures impact the lives of humans more than they realize.
A Harvard professor taught him the meaning of culture “and its impact on us. Culture affects us more than we think. The culture is very subversive. We educators are co-builders with the young people we serve.
Bishop Chow wants to engage with young people through dialogue because they are “more receptive than adults or older because they are more willing to try things and can see a future full of possibilities; they have less baggage, so to speak.
He often asked young people to be like a giraffe “with their feet planted on the ground and a vision turned towards the future. We can’t always have all our feet on the ground at the same time; when the giraffe moves, one foot is in the air, so we need vision. We have to keep the vision and the context together.
Young people, mostly university students, spearheaded the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. But Bishop Chow wanted young people to “not just look at the walls but look at the future: how you want Hong Kong to be in the future.”
“Share your vision with your peers… but at the same time, don’t just listen to like-minded people, or you’ll share the same blind spots. You have to listen to people who are very different from you, who don’t even agree with you.
Hong Kong bishop says he won’t abandon the elderly.
“Young people can help older members of the community. Young people are the ones who give hope and energy to the elderly. Since 2019, some older people felt that young people were insensitive – and some were. The two groups can come together and talk, share and help each other,” he said.
As educators, we always hope that our students can think for themselves, have multiple perspectives, and appreciate differences.
Bishop Chow said the introduction of the national security law marked a new era in Hong Kong’s political history.
“We have to be careful; we don’t want to cause trouble for our children, our students or the school. We must protect our students. As educators, we always hope our students can think for themselves, have multiple perspectives, and appreciate differences,” he said.
Elders should help younger generations to know “what is legal and what is not” and at the same time “help them think”. The younger generation should develop a healthy conscience despite ideological differences – whether rigid conservatives or neurotic liberals, he said.
He said he wanted to help “our young people think more deeply about this time. But it is a difficult task. Veteran teachers emigrated. Even social workers and psychologists have moved. This is the harsh reality we have to face.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Bishop Chow is optimistic about the future of the missionary presence in Hong Kong.
“I really believe that foreign missionaries have their place in Hong Kong. We appreciate what they’ve done and we’re doing our best to keep them here. Hong Kong must remain an international city, with missionaries and expatriates.
Bishop Chow believes it is essential to have dialogue and work with the government to play the prophetic role as Christians.
“We have to work with the government and find all the space we can. But, in humility and in a spirit of dialogue, we can still say what we think, because we are here as prophets.
Father Gianni Criveler of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions is dean of studies and teacher at the PIME International Missionary School of Theology in Milan, Italy. He has taught in Greater China for 27 years and is a lecturer in mission theology and the history of Christianity in China at the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Philosophy and Theology in Hong Kong.
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