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Concerns Over Beijing Archbishop’s HK Visit

by | Mon, Nov 20 2023

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This month’s visit to Hong Kong by the Archbishop of Beijing Joseph Li Shan has raised concerns among the territory’s Catholics. Premier Christian News reports they fear it’s a sign of China taking tighter control of religious affairs in Hong Kong.

It’s the first visit by a mainland Chinese archbishop since the former British colony was returned to Beijing in 1997. It followed a landmark visit to the Chinese capital by Hong Kong’s Cardinal Stephen Chow in April. Cardinal Chow invited Archbishop Li Shan to visit Hong Kong, saying his presence would serve to deepen connections between the Vatican and China.

The Vatican News described Archbishop Li Shan’s visit as “fraternal and constructive” and reported he expressed his sincere gratitude to the Cardinal as well as to all his brothers and sisters in Hong Kong for making the exchange possible. It quoted the Archbishop as saying: “We have learnt a lot” from the development of the Church in Hong Kong and vowing to make his experience fruitful for the growth of the Catholic community in Beijing.

The visit ended with a theological conference on the theme The Synodal Church and the Church in China: communion, participation, mission. Cardinal Chow expressed his hope that one day all Chinese Catholics could come together to pray.

Mainland Catholics have long been split between an official church loyal to Beijing and an underground church loyal to the Pope. Tensions between Beijing and the Vatican over the appointment of bishops led to a confidential agreement five years ago. It has twice been renewed, despite complaints China has frequently broken the deal. Beijing has been following a policy of Sinicisation of religion, trying to root out foreign influences and enforce obedience to the Communist Party.

Premier Christian News reports that Hong Kong has traditionally been seen as a regional Catholic hub on the edge of the Chinese mainland under officially-atheist Communist Party rule. There are an estimated 10-12 million Catholics in China. Hong Kong has 600,000 Catholics.

91-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former Bishop of Hong Kong and one of the most prominent Catholic clerics in Asia, wrote in a blog ahead of Archbishop Li Shan’s visit that even though the situation may be more difficult than before, people still have to persevere, stay calm, and hold their heads high. “Never consecrate a bishop without permission. Sacraments can be sacrificed, but faith cannot be sacrificed! Remember! Remember!” Cardinal Zen wrote.

Photo: Catholic News Service – HK Cardinal Stephen Chow (L), Archbishop of Beijing Joseph Li Shan (R)