PrintAmid tensions between the Vatican and China, the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Hong Kong said on Thursday (April 20) during a historic trip to Beijing that he hoped for more exchanges and cooperation between the dioceses of the two cities.
Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reported that Bishop Stephen Chow made the remarks at a Mass attended by Bishop Li Shan of the diocese of Beijing. Bishop Zhou Shouren later told reporters that he was encouraged to visit other dioceses.
“I hope this is not the last time,” he said.
His five-day visit was the first visit to Beijing by a bishop of the Hong Kong diocese in nearly three decades. Two weeks ago, Vatican News reported that China had unilaterally appointed a new bishop for the diocese of Shanghai.
The Chinese Communist Party tightly controls organized religion, viewing religion as a potential threat to its monopoly. People can worship in institutions that abide by party rules. Some Christians have founded underground churches, which are considered illegal and harassed by authorities.
The breakthrough came after the Vatican and China signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops in 2018. For decades, the issue of bishop appointments has hampered diplomatic ties and fueled divisions among Chinese Catholics.
The agreement has been renewed twice, most recently in October last year, extending the agreement for another two years. But just one month later, a dispute broke out between the two sides over the appointment of the auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi Province, which the Vatican does not recognize as a diocese.
The agreement was severely criticized by Card Joseph Zen, former bishop of the diocese of Hong Kong.
Another Hong Kong broadcasting company, i-Cable News, quoted Zhou Shouren as saying that the main purpose of his trip was exchanges between dioceses, so they did not talk too much about China and the Vatican.
After Thursday’s mass, some parishioners in Beijing told local media that they would welcome more exchanges between the two dioceses.
Zhou Shouren, who was appointed bishop of Hong Kong by Pope Francis in 2021, began his visit on Monday and participated in a prayer meeting held in the church that night. On Wednesday, he visited the tomb of Matteo Ricci, one of the first Jesuits living in China who died in Beijing in 1610, Radio Television Hong Kong reported. The visit was at the invitation of the Bishop of Beijing.