More than a million people in Hong Kong, including a number of prominent Catholics, participated in pro-democracy protests of a controversial extradition law in 2019 and against the local government’s decision to push a national security law in 2020.
Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon imprisoned for his role in the pro-democracy movement, is a Catholic. But so too is Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, who backed the contentious national security law.
Church leaders in Hong Kong are therefore faced with these broad divisions within the community, while recognizing that “solidarity is even more valued in times of difficulty,” Cheng said.
Chow, the incoming bishop of Hong Kong, is himself a product of decades of education, teaching, and administrative leadership in Catholic schools within and outside of Hong Kong.
The Jesuit bishop-elect has identified these tensions and divisions within Hong Kong and said at a press conference the day after his appointment that he thought that “listening and empathy” were very important to heal divisions, adding that “unity is not the same as uniformity.”
“I really have no big plan, grand plan of how to unify, but I do believe there is a God, and God wants us to be united,” the 61-year-old said.
Chow also told journalists that he did not think it would be wise to comment on especially controversial issues, particularly relating to China, the day after his appointment.
“That would be rash,” he said. “But it is not because I am afraid, but, I think, I believe that prudence is also a virtue.”
Nearly a year after the passage of the national security law, an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State said that he was not convinced that speaking out on the situation in Hong Kong “would make any difference whatever.”
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, said: “One can say a lot of, shall we say, appropriate words that would be appreciated by the international press and by many parts of the world, but I -- and, I think, many of my colleagues -- have yet to be convinced that it would make any difference whatever.”
Hong Kong is at a turning point in its history, and Cheng believes that people will remember how the Church responded.
(Story continues below)
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“This is a testing time,” he said, “And Hong Kong people, Chinese people, in the future will look back at these testing times and invariably they will say: What was the position of the Catholic Church? What was the position of the pope during these very difficult times?”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.