Bishop Michael Yeung, in his first press conference as the new head of the Hong Catholic Church, dismayed many in the Church when he said he favours improved collaboration with Beijing.
Speaking to the press on 2 August, the 72-year-old offered the Hong Kong Church as a "bridge" between Chinese authorities and the Vatican, adding that “I always think that building bridges is much more important than building fences and if there is any way we can help to maintain a dialogue, we will be willing to do so". He is happy with the Vatican’s optimism in seeking dialogue with China, commenting that “China is a huge country...and relationships must be developed step by step, bearing in mind human rights, which are a topic of concern”.
Despite his willingness to facilitate dialogue with China, Bishop Yeung said he also supported democratic reform for semi-autonomous Hong Kong, as did his predecessors Cardinal John Tong Hon and Cardinal Joseph Zen, who became a prominent pro-democracy advocate.
There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China, but the Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with Beijing since 1951. Moves towards a rapprochement have led to unease among some Catholics who fear that a deal with Beijing may compromise the Church. The Hong Kong Church, unlike the state-sponsored official - or Patriotic - Church in China, answers to the pope. But there are fears that the Communist Party's clear moves to take firmer control of Hong Kong's political and more recently its legal system will eventually spill over to the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, in Rome, the Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has admitted that ongoing secret negotiations with China – the latest being in June - over the appointment of bishops have presented "new challenges". Tensions mounted in June when the Vatican expressed "grave concern" for one of its appointed bishops in China, Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, saying he was being held in an unknown location after being "forcibly removed" from his diocese in southeastern China.
Meanwhile Rome-based Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo told an audience in Beijing last week, that, “Pope Francis loves China and loves the people of China”.
The 75-year old Argentine who is also head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was speaking at the China Organ Donation and Transplantation Conference in Kunming on 3 August. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences was attending the conference for the first time.
Bishop Sorondo said it was important to note that after this meeting China, with all its global influence, has become committed to fighting corruption in organ trafficking.
PICTURE: Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung speaks during a 2 August news conference after Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Hong Kong the previous day