29 September 2023, The Tablet

Hong Kong cardinal wants to ‘evangelise not proselytise’ in China

by Courtney Mares, CNA

In Pope Francis’ travels to countries where Catholics are in the minority, he has made a distinction between “proselytism” and “evangelisation”.

Hong Kong cardinal wants to ‘evangelise not proselytise’ in China

Bishop Stephen Chow speaking to reporters in Rome on 28 September.
Associated Press / Alamy

Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow said on Thursday that evangelisation in China today should focus on communicating the love of God to people “without the agenda of turning them into Catholics”.

In an interview in Rome with CNA on 28 September, the Bishop of Hong Kong, who will be made a cardinal in the consistory this weekend, spoke about his vision for evangelisation in mainland China.

“I think it is important that we say that Pope Francis made a distinction. Evangelisation is really to help people to understand the love of God – and the love of God without the agenda of turning them into Catholics – because that shouldn’t be the focus, as that focus would be very restrictive,” Chow said.

The cardinal-elect underlined that evangelisation should help “them to come to understand our God means love, means goodwill and a better life”.

“Evangelisation should be really coming to know God, who is love,” he said.

In Pope Francis’ travels to countries where Catholics are in the minority, the Pope has made a distinction between “proselytism” and “evangelisation”.

“Evangelisation is essentially witness,” Francis told the Jesuits in Mozambique in 2019. “Proselytising is convincing, but it is all about membership and takes your freedom away.”

During a general audience on 11 January this year, Pope Francis emphasised that evangelisation and proselytism are not the same.

“And it does not begin by trying to convince others, but by witnessing every day to the beauty of the love that has looked upon us and lifted us up,” he said of evangelisation.

Francis recalled a line from a homily given by Pope Benedict XVI at a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean bishops in Brazil, in 2007: “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction.’”

“Do not forget this,” Pope Francis added, calling Christians who proselytise “pagans dressed as Christians”.

The Pope has also praised Venerable Matteo Ricci, a sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary and scholar, for his “proclamation of the Gospel” in China by proposing “the truth of the Christian faith and morality”.

The Chinese people have faced increased restrictions on religious freedom in the last decade. Catholic priests are only allowed to minister in recognised places of worship, which minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government implemented new “Measures on the Management of Religious Activity Sites”, which ban the display of religious symbols outdoors, require preaching to “reflect core socialist values” and limit all religious activities to government-approved religious venues, according to China Aid.

Despite the restrictions, two bishops from mainland China have been permitted to travel to Rome to participate in the Synod on Synodality assembly in October.

Chow is also a synod delegate, personally nominated by Pope Francis to take part in the assembly. He said that he is “excited that the laypeople, men and women, and religious, are represented as full voting members”.

The cardinal-elect has led the Diocese of Hong Kong since December 2021. Chow said that one of the biggest challenges facing Hong Kong Catholics is how “to provide good moral education...so that we have moral citizens”.

He emphasised the importance of formation in parishes so that laypeople can evangelise outside of the parish.

“Evangelisation is to your social community. Each parish is connected to your social community. We need to go out, get out of our parish, and really to connect with the social community and serve them,” he said.

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