It was a delicate exercise that took more than two years for the Holy See and Pope Francis: to find a bishop for the diocese of Hong Kong, vacant since the death of Bishop Michael Yeung in January 2019.
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As the Beijing government increasingly asserted its takeover of the former British colony, the process of selecting the new bishop was the subject of intense negotiations, among those pushing for the appointment of a close man. of the Chinese government and those wanting a bishop rather close to the pro-democracy movements, many of whom are moreover Catholic.
The wait ended Monday, May 17, with the announcement at bulletin official of the Holy See of Pope Francis’ choice, which fell on Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan. So it was to his original order that the Pope turned, choosing a Jesuit for Hong Kong. Born in 1959, Father Chow entered the Society of Jesus in 1984 and made his last vows there in 2007. Since 2018, the religious was provincial of China – an area that covers Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and mainland China. A native of Hong Kong, he is also a graduate of Jesuit University in Chicago and Harvard in the United States.
Education, the next area of contention?
According to observers who know the person concerned, in appointing Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, Pope Francis has made a choice of compromise “Very balanced”. These good analysts of the local situation note in particular the commitment of the Jesuit in the educational field. The priest thus chaired the commission for education of the Jesuit province of China and was until now a member of the council for education of the diocese of Honk Kong.
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This involvement takes on a special character as some believe that education will be one of the next subjects of clashes between Beijing and pro-democracy activists. The Communist government is strongly suspected of wanting to reverse the freedom of education that may still exist in Hong Kong, and in particular in the more than 300 Catholic schools. These have indeed often been accused of being hotbeds of contestation.
The appointment of the new bishop of Hong Kong comes after several months in which the subject of the island has been carefully avoided by Pope Francis. In July, according to some Italian journalists, François was to launch an appeal as protests and arrests increased in the former British colony, but he had given up. “On Saturday afternoon, the passage he was to read had been written and approved by the highest officials, including the Pope himself. But, during the night, he seems to have changed his mind about the advisability of pronouncing such a message, and finally said nothing during the Angelus “, related, in the fall, a Vatican source interviewed by The cross.