Hong Kong, China, May 21, 2021 / 11:29 am
For several informed sources inside the Vatican, the appointment of the Fr. Stephen Chow Sau-yan, a Jesuit, as Bishop of Hong Kong shows both Pope Francis’ way in balancing different positions and his preference for priests coming from a religious order when situations are difficult.
Hong Kong is a Chinese territory transferred from Great Britain to China in 1997. Despite the "One country – two systems” policy, meaning that mainland China was keeping the different, more democratic Hong Kong system once the latter rejoined the "motherland," protests in Hong Kong have been spreading since 2019.
Many citizens protested against the local government decision to push a controversial “security law” bill in 2020, following an equally controversial 2019 extradition law that would allow the extradition of political law breakers to mainland China. The government reaction to protests led to the arrest of prominent Catholic leaders, like media mogul Jimmy Lai.
After the death of Bishop Yeung in January 2019, Pope Francis had to figure out who could be the best person to fit the position of Hong Kong's bishop.
Since the beginning, there were two candidates: Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha, a Franciscan close to the pro-democracy movement, and Fr. Peter Choy, considered close to the authorities of mainland China.
Last year, it seemed that Fr. Choy had made the cut, and the announcement of his appointment as bishop of Hong Kong seemed imminent. The appointment never took place, and according to local Catholic sources familiar with the events, Cardinal John Tong, who led the diocese from 2009 through 2017 and was serving as administrator since Bishop Yeung's death, suggested not to go ahead with the appointment.
The reason was that Fr. Choy appeared to be too much in line with the Chinese government, and thus his appointment could be considered a "slap in the face" of the pro-democratic movement in Hong Kong and to many underground Catholics in China who have not seen any benefits from the temporary agreement between China and the Holy See.
The Pope’s glance then fell on Fr. Chow, a Jesuit provincial.