Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan was ordained a bishop in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday.
“As a successor to the Apostles by the grace of Almighty God, I request your constant prayers that I may always be loyal to God’s will as a shepherd to the People of God in Hong Kong, and faithfully carry out my duties,” Chow said at the Mass on Dec. 4.
Cardinal John Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, presided over the Mass. Cardinal Joseph Zen and auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha were co-celebrants.
“Through the Bishop’s wisdom and prudence, it is Christ himself who leads you in your earthly pilgrimage toward eternal happiness,” Tong said in his homily, according to the diocese of Hong Kong.
“He has been entrusted with the task of bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, and with the ministry of the Spirit and of justice,” he said.
During the Mass, Chow laid face down on the floor in total surrender to God as the congregation recited the Litany of the Saints in Cantonese.
Bishop Chow said in a brief speech at the end of the Mass that he wanted to help “foster healing and connections” in the Catholic community in his "beloved hometown."
“As the bishop, it is my desire to be a bridge between the government and the church in Hong Kong and between the Catholic Church, fellow Christian denominations, and other religions,” he said.
“It is through sincere connection with one another, including within our own diocese that emphatic understanding can be established, appreciation can be fostered, respect and trust can be deepened, and hopefully collaboration can become a living culture in our community."
Chow also read aloud an excerpt from a letter that he recently received from Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J. The archbishop emeritus of Ottawa-Cornwall wrote: “Given the history of the church in China and Hong Kong, Catholicism can no longer be seen as a foreign religion, but as integral to Hong Kong society."
More than 6,000 people tuned in live to watch Chow’s consecration Mass on YouTube.
Among those watching the livestream were priests and seminarians in Italy from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), who have launched a prayer campaign for the newly consecrated bishop.
Father Gianni Criveller, who is helping to organize the campaign at the PIME missionary seminary in the Italian city of Monza, told UCA News that he knows that Bishop Chow will face “great difficulties and challenges.”
“The long-awaited consecration of the bishop calls for prayer and solidarity. Bishop Stephen has a very difficult task ahead of him humanly. In fact, it seems nearly impossible. However, we believe in the power of prayer and in the communion of those who entrust their lives to the Lord Jesus,” he said.
Pope Francis appointed Chow to be bishop of Hong Kong in May. Before his appointment, Hong Kong had been without a permanent bishop since January 2019.
Chow, 62, previously served as the provincial of the Jesuits’ Chinese Province. In that role, he led the Jesuit order in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China as the Vatican-China deal was first signed and during the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy protest movement.
Born in Hong Kong in 1959, Chow went on to study in the United States, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, before entering the Society of Jesus in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 25.
During his Jesuit novitiate, he obtained a licentiate in philosophy in Ireland and then returned in 1988 to Hong Kong, where he was ordained to the priesthood on July 16, 1994.
Chow continued his studies at Loyola University in Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in organizational development in 1995. He spent the next five years working as a campus minister, vocations director, and ethics teacher at Wah Yan College in Kowloon and Hong Kong.
In 2000, Chow began a doctoral program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education studying development and psychology. He graduated with a Doctorate in Education in 2006.
The following year, he made his final vows in the Jesuit order and worked as an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong from 2008 to 2015 and Jesuit Formator from 2009 to 2017. He also served as the president of the Chinese Jesuit Province’s education commission since 2009 and the Hong Kong Diocesan Council for Education since 2017.
Chow began his role as provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus on Jan. 1, 2018.
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Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.
With the 2020 passage of new “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.
Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad in its definitions of terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion. Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.
On April 16, authorities in Hong Kong sentenced several Catholic pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to prison sentences under the new security law.
“Hong Kong is going through perhaps the most dramatic phase of its history and has almost disappeared from the radar of international attention. However, those who love Hong Kong have not forgotten it,” Criveller said.
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.