19 May 2021, The Tablet

New bishop talks of 'healing' in Hong Kong

New bishop talks of 'healing' in Hong Kong

The new Bishop-elect of Hong Kong, Fr Stephen Chow SJ, centre, is introduced at a press conference yesterday.
Hong Kong diocesan Youtube screenshot.

The Jesuit priest, Fr Stephen Chow SJ, appointed the new Bishop of Hong Kong, has spoken of desire to bring healing.

Fr Chow, 61, also disclosed that his first response was to decline the post, until Pope Francis himself intervened in a hand-written note.

Fr Chow, the youngest Chinese bishop ever appointed to Hong Kong, was born in Hong Kong in 1959 and was ordained as a priest in Hong Kong in 1994.

He received a doctorate in education from Harvard University in the US and is currently the president of the Chinese province of the Society of Jesuits and supervisor of Wah Yan colleges in Hong Kong and Kowloon.

He will not be ordained until later this year to allow the Jesuits to appoint replacement.

At a press conference yesterday, speaking mainly in Cantonese, he appealed for unity and called on Catholics to respect viewpoints across the spectrum in Hong Kong, where there are wide divisions between those who oppose China and those who do not. He also offered prayers for those people killed in Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

He had posted on Facebook that it took “months of discernment” along with “consultation and prayer” to accept the post. Asked what the concerns were that he had, and how he could be the “bridge” that he wished to be, he said: “One of the concerns I have is that the bishop of a diocesan should come from the diocesan priests.” This was why he felt it should not be him. He said he did not feel the “call” within himself to be a bishop.

He discussed it with his Jesuit superior in Rome, and as a result at first, back in December, he declined.

But he said that as a Jesuit, it was important that he be obedient to the Holy Father. And Pope Francis wrote to him, by hand, in support of the appointment and saying he should be the bishop. “I read the letter. In Italian. I don’t know Italian. It was translated for me. For me that's a sign, that I should take (it) up.” 

He said he loved Hong Kong, as his birthplace and the place where he grew up. 

About being a bridge, as he has stated he wishes to be, he said it was not easy. The community had itself been “much divided” so he was thinking of “how to bring healing”. He added: “It takes a lot. I’m not saying I’m successful. I'm  doing my best. And listening. Empathy is really important. I think it is a fundamental part.

Asked how ready he was to defend religious freedom and how he could work to bring unity, he said: “I have only just been appointed. I really have no grand plan how to unify. But I do believe there is a God. And God wants us to be united. Unity is not the same as uniformity. One thing I have always mentioned is unity in plurality. We need to respect plurality. It is something we all need to learn I think.”

On religious freedom, he said: “For me, religious freedom is a basic right.” He said he would talk to government and remind them that it was important to allow religious freedom for all, and not just Catholics. 

Benedict Rogers, senior analyst with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “I welcome the fact that after more than two years, an appointment has been made, and I congratulate Bishop-elect Stephen Chow on his appointment. It is early days and time will tell, and the new Bishop faces many challenges ahead, but from the information and commentary I have seen so far, Fr Chow seems to be a wise choice whose pastoral skills may enable him to unite Catholics in Hong Kong.

“He is not known either as being pro-Beijing nor as being at the forefront of the democracy movement, and his comments yesterday in defence of religious freedom and plurality, and his prayers for the victims of the Tiananmen massacre, are reassuring enough for democrats without being overly-provocative to Beijing. His background in education may equip him to speak out for academic freedom and his position as a Jesuit may give him closer access to the Pope, which would be very welcome. From all the early indicators, it would seem his is a wise appointment to be welcomed. But let’s see how he navigates the challenges to come.”


  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99