CV NEWS FEED // The state-appointed auxiliary bishop of Beijing will visit the diocese of Hong Kong for five days at the invitation of the Vatican-appointed Hong Kong Cardinal Stephen Chow.
Amidst complex China-Vatican relations, the auxiliary Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing, who was appointed by the Communist Chinese government, will meet with Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong “and different diocesan offices to promote exchanges and interactions between the two dioceses,” according to a recent press release from the Hong Kong diocese.
In 2018, the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China signed a Provisional Agreement that recognized the Vatican’s sole authority to appoint bishops, but that agreement has since been violated by China.
Pope Francis was forced to approve the Chinese Communist party’s pick for a new bishop of Shanghai in July, months after the Chinese government initially appointed the bishop without the Vatican’s consent.
Chow invited Li Shan for a five-day visit, starting November 14, when he previously visited Li Shan in Beijing in April of this year.
“I think it is important to build up the relationship in the sense that once we know each other now, the other is not a monster, not an unknown,” Chow told America Magazine regarding his April visit. “The other is known, and we can really think of walking together [and of] how we can collaborate and work to help each other.”
Following Li’s acceptance of Chow’s invitation, Chow told Herald-Whig that their upcoming meeting is significant because it is “important that we are connected. … everything starts with a humanity first, not by structure, not by policy, but human connection.”
“With that connection, we can walk together, we can talk about how to strengthen the structure, how to make some policy, even in terms of policy in the long term, (and) how that would help us to witness for the love of God,” Chow added. “Now, I’m not saying this as a very abstract thing. Love is really the remedy for a lot of problems in the world today.”
Beijing and the Vatican ceased diplomatic ties in 1951, when the Chinese Communist Party rose to power and outlawed foreign priests. The Communist Party has persecuted thousands of Catholic priests and laypeople since through arrests, labor camps, and even death, while simultaneously sanctioning certain churches that are “approved” by the party for public use.
Catholics in China either attend the state-sanctioned churches, which are part of a state organization called the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, or an unsanctioned underground church, which is not registered with the state and typically recognizes the supreme authority of the pope in religious appointments. “The Vatican recognizes members of both as Catholics but claims the exclusive right to choose bishops,” Hong-Kong news outlet Herald-Whig explained. Li Shan is the president of the Catholic Patriotic Association.
When Chow reflected on his experience in the diocese of Beijing in April, he added that the diocese has “involved the laity. I don’t see what depth there is yet, but they have projects run by laity. I think they are doing what is good, and the lay people who talked to us are doing good. And they have vocations. We went to the two seminaries in Beijing, the national seminary and the diocesan seminary, [and I saw] they have vocations.”
Chow, along with three other bishops from China, attended the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican. Li Shan did not attend the synod.
The two bishops from China’s mainland returned to China before the synod concluded. Regarding the final session of the synod in October of 2024, Chow said, “I hope [the authorities in Beijing] will allow the same three [two bishops, plus priest translator] to come again and ideally stay to the end.”
“[Officials from Beijing] really appreciate Francis. They see him as someone with whom you can have dialogue, someone who is really interested in China. I say that because it came through in my conversations,” Chow told America Magazine.
“[They like] what [Pope Francis has] said, what he represents. He doesn’t criticize; he wants to know about China, he wants to be fair,” Chow added.” It has become clear to me that the Chinese, the government, and the people feel they have been misunderstood by the West. Some people deliberately twist things and make them look bad. They appreciate anyone who says something fair.”
Chow described his own role in relation to China “as a bridge.” When it was noted that the traditional role of the Hong Kong church has been a bridge, Chow responded: “Yes, but even Hong Kong itself has been a bridge between the West and East. I hope it will continue to do that well, and that the church, too, will continue to do so.”