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Chinese bishops reportedly met with Hong Kong clerics on sinicization

December 31, 2021 Catholic News Agency 3
The episcopal consecration of Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan’s in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 4, 2021 / Screenshot from livestream

Denver Newsroom, Dec 31, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Four clerics have told Reuters that several bishops and other officials from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association met in October with senior clerics of the Diocese of Hong Kong to talk to them about sinicization, a Chinese government campaign to bring religion into its vision of culture, society, and politics.

“We all know the word sinicization carries a political agenda behind it, and they didn’t have to spell that out,” said one of the four Hong Kong clerics who spoke to Reuters about the meeting.

Sinicization was proposed by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2015. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has called the effort “a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.”

Reuters’ report on the Oct. 31 meeting was published Dec. 30.

The Hong Kong Liaison Office, which represents the Chinese government in the special administrative region, arranged and monitored the encounter. Participating were three bishops and “about 15 religious figures” from the Patriotic Association, and “about 15 senior clergymen” of the Hong Kong diocese.

Two of the men who spoke to Reuters said the officials from the government-backed Church spoke about the compatibility of sinicization and inculturation, and one described Xi as the “elephant in the room” during the conversation.

“This was just the first step and I felt they knew that they could not come into this too heavy,” another said. 

Several told Reuters that Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong attended the meeting only a short time. The Jesuit was consecrated Dec. 4.

Hong Kongers have, historically, largely enjoyed political fredom and freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China there is a long history of persecution of religious persons who run afoul of the government.

Beijing has in recent years tightened control over the island territory and cracked down on dissent.

The Hong Kong diocese has been divided in recent years over reactions to a movement protesting China’s increasing control over the special administrative region. 

The Catholic Church in China has been split between the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

In 2018, the Vatican reached an agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops in the country; the terms of the agreement, which was renewed in October 2020 for two more years, have never been fully revealed. It is meant to help unite the Patriotic Association and the underground Church.

The October meeting’s focus on the compatibility of sinicization and inculturation is not novel. 

Fr. Benoit Vermander, a Jesuit priest in China, attempted to outline a path for “sinicization” of religion in a March 2018 issue of La Civiltà Cattolica, whose publication is overseen by the Secretariat of State. 

While there are “evident dangers” in following a top-down policy that can bring “a substantial loss of identity,” he argued, Catholics should not avoid sinicization simply because it is government backed. Rather, despite the problems created by the policy, dialogue between Catholics and the communist government is needed.

Fr. Vermander argued that Christians should listen to the government’s appeal for sinicization and “examine which kind of changes it could lead them to imagine and undertake,” while “being aware of the danger.”

And in May 2019 Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said that inculturation and sinicization can be “complementary” and “can open avenues for dialogue.”

“These two terms, ‘inculturation’ and ‘sinicization,’ refer to each other without confusion and without opposition,” he told the Global Times, an English-language newspaper owned by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

“For the future, it will certainly be important to deepen this theme, especially the relationship between ‘inculturation’ and ‘sinicization,’ keeping in mind how the Chinese leadership has been able to reiterate their willingness not to undermine the nature and the doctrine of each religion,” Cardinal Parolin said.

“Inculturation is an essential condition for a sound proclamation of the Gospel which, in order to bear fruit, requires, on the one hand, safeguarding its authentic purity and integrity and, on the other, presenting it according to the particular experience of each people and culture,” he said.


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Hong Kong bishop consecrated in Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

December 4, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Bishop Stephen Chow’s ordination as bishop in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 5, 2021 / Screenshot from livestream

Rome Newsroom, Dec 4, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan was ordained a bishop in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday.

“As a successor to the Apostles by the grace of Almighty God, I request your constant prayers that I may always be loyal to God’s will as a shepherd to the People of God in Hong Kong, and faithfully carry out my duties,” Chow said at the Mass on Dec. 4.

Cardinal John Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, presided over the Mass. Cardinal Joseph Zen and auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha were co-celebrants.

“Through the Bishop’s wisdom and prudence, it is Christ himself who leads you in your earthly pilgrimage toward eternal happiness,” Tong said in his homily, according to the diocese of Hong Kong.

“He has been entrusted with the task of bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, and with the ministry of the Spirit and of justice,” he said.

During the Mass, Chow laid face down on the floor in total surrender to God as the congregation recited the Litany of the Saints in Cantonese.

Bishop Chow said in a brief speech at the end of the Mass that he wanted to help “foster healing and connections” in the Catholic community in his “beloved hometown.”

“As the bishop, it is my desire to be a bridge between the government and the church in Hong Kong and between the Catholic Church, fellow Christian denominations, and other religions,” he said.

“It is through sincere connection with one another, including within our own diocese that emphatic understanding can be established, appreciation can be fostered, respect and trust can be deepened, and hopefully collaboration can become a living culture in our community.”

Chow also read aloud an excerpt from a letter that he recently received from Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J. The archbishop emeritus of Ottawa-Cornwall wrote: “Given the history of the church in China and Hong Kong, Catholicism can no longer be seen as a foreign religion, but as integral to Hong Kong society.”

More than 6,000 people tuned in live to watch Chow’s consecration Mass on YouTube.

Among those watching the livestream were priests and seminarians in Italy from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), who have launched a prayer campaign for the newly consecrated bishop.

Father Gianni Criveller, who is helping to organize the campaign at the PIME missionary seminary in the Italian city of Monza, told UCA News that he knows that Bishop Chow will face “great difficulties and challenges.”

“The long-awaited consecration of the bishop calls for prayer and solidarity. Bishop Stephen has a very difficult task ahead of him humanly. In fact, it seems nearly impossible. However, we believe in the power of prayer and in the communion of those who entrust their lives to the Lord Jesus,” he said.

Pope Francis appointed Chow to be bishop of Hong Kong in May. Before his appointment, Hong Kong had been without a permanent bishop since January 2019.

Chow, 62, previously served as the provincial of the Jesuits’ Chinese Province. In that role, he led the Jesuit order in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China as the Vatican-China deal was first signed and during the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy protest movement.

Born in Hong Kong in 1959, Chow went on to study in the United States, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, before entering the Society of Jesus in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 25.

During his Jesuit novitiate, he obtained a licentiate in philosophy in Ireland and then returned in 1988 to Hong Kong, where he was ordained to the priesthood on July 16, 1994.

Chow continued his studies at Loyola University in Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in organizational development in 1995. He spent the next five years working as a campus minister, vocations director, and ethics teacher at Wah Yan College in Kowloon and Hong Kong.

In 2000, Chow began a doctoral program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education studying development and psychology. He graduated with a Doctorate in Education in 2006.

The following year, he made his final vows in the Jesuit order and worked as an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong from 2008 to 2015 and Jesuit Formator from 2009 to 2017. He also served as the president of the Chinese Jesuit Province’s education commission since 2009 and the Hong Kong Diocesan Council for Education since 2017.

Chow began his role as provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus on Jan. 1, 2018.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

With the 2020 passage of new “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad in its definitions of terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion. Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

On April 16, authorities in Hong Kong sentenced several Catholic pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to prison sentences under the new security law.

“Hong Kong is going through perhaps the most dramatic phase of its history and has almost disappeared from the radar of international attention. However, those who love Hong Kong have not forgotten it,” Criveller said.