On December 4, the consecration of Stephen Chow Sau-yan SJ 周守仁, former Provincial of the Chinese Province of the Jesuits, as Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong took place in the Cathedral of Hong Kong. Bishop Chow is the ninth bishop of Hong Kong. The appointment was announced by the Vatican on 17 May this year. The consecration of the 62-year-old marks the end of an almost three-year vacancy. After the death of Hong Kong Bishop Michael Yeung in January 2019, his predecessor, Cardinal John Tong, had taken over as Apostolic Administrator of the diocese at the request of the Pope. Cardinal Tong was the main consecrator, with Cardinal Joseph Zen and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha OFM as co-consecrators. According to the newly consecrated bishop, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Bishop Dr. Franz-Josef Overbeck of Hong Kong’s partner diocese of Essen followed the ceremony online. The Chancellor of the Diocese, Lawrence Lee, and Msgr. Javier Herrera-Corona, the representative of the Holy See in Hong Kong, read out the papal certificate of appointment in Cantonese and English. There were 550 people gathered in the Cathedral, including a large number of priests. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carry Lam, a practising Catholic, was also present, but she left the church before communion was distributed.
Bishop Chow emphasized in his speech at the end of the liturgical celebration that it was his desire to be a “bridge between the government and the Church in HK, and between the Catholic Church, fellow Christian denominations, and other religions. It is through sincere connection with one another, including within our own Diocese, that empathic 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.” The Bishop continued: “I am quite aware that it is not easy, given the painful damages that different parties had experienced in their own ways in the past two years.” In this context, Bishop Chow saw a positive gain through the Corona pandemic: “Along with its destructive effects, the pandemic has, ironically, been a blessing in disguise in a strange way. Hong Kong people have, to a certain extent, reached out to help each other regardless of political or religious persuasions.” The Bishop then emphasized that the Diocese of Hong Kong “is also an important part of the universal Catholic Church” and he quoted from messages from Terrence Prendergast, SJ, Archbishop Emeritus of Ottawa-Cornwall, as well as Cardinal Tagle.
Stephen Chow SJ was born in Hong Kong on August 7, 1959. He obtained degrees in psychology in the USA. He entered the Jesuit Order in 1984. He completed his philosophy and theology studies in Ireland and Hong Kong, where he was ordained priest by Cardinal John Baptist Wu in 1994. He subsequently earned a master’s degree in organizational development from Loyola University in Chicago and a doctorate in human development and psychology from Harvard University in Boston. Stephen Chow has worked in Hong Kong primarily in education, including at two Jesuit-run schools, the University of Hong Kong and the Holy Spirit Seminary. He was Provincial of the Chinese Jesuit Province from 2018 to 2021.
Bishop Chow has chosen an interesting episcopal coat of arms. Besides the Jesuit symbol, it also contains the motto of the Jesuit Order “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” –
“for the greater glory of God.” The giraffe as one of the two heraldic animals seems unusual at first glance, it even stretches its head beyond the coat of arms. The following explanation can be found on the website of the Diocese of Hong Kong: “Giraffe has a big heart and it symbolizes compassion, inclusiveness and generosity. Its long neck allows it to have a vista with a wide horizon and a farreaching vision.” On the white dove you can read there: “The approaching dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Guided by the Spirit in discernment is the way forward. The olive branch with leaves in rainbow colors symbolizes Hope and the Promise of God for Life and Creation.” The symbol in the center of the coat of arms wants to depict “unity in diversity.” The bridge in the lower part of the coat of arms is the Tsing-Ma Bridge, which connects two parts of the country across the water: “The mission of our Church is to be a bridge for different parties to meet by moving over it. The flowing water underneath symbolizes the passing of time, which represents the ongoing mission of the Church.
In his congratulatory letter, Bishop Overbeck, who was unable to attend the consecration in person due to the pandemic, referred to Hong Kong’s special function in the relationship between China and the Catholic Church. The ordination “will not only be accompanied by many pastoral tasks that concern your concrete diocese, but above all you will look towards China.” Bishop Overbeck emphasized: “As your predecessors have done, you too will bear responsibility for this special relationship between China and the Holy See, mediated by the Diocese of Hong Kong.” He referred to “the will of Pope Francis to strengthen the presence of the Catholic Church throughout China” and wished Chow for this “a happy hand and God’s rich blessing in everything.” The partnership between the dioceses of Essen and Hong Kong has existed since 1961. In the beginning, it was mainly financial support of the diocese of Hong Kong, but in recent years there have been repeated reciprocal visits and meetings of young people from both dioceses.
Today, the diocese of Hong Kong has almost 630,000 Catholics (including approx. 183,000 Filipinos and 34,000 Catholics of other nationalities) in a population of 7.5 million, approx. 300 priests (three quarters of them religious priests), 52 parishes and 253 educational institutions (schools etc.).
Sources: China heute 2021, Nr. 2, S. 76-77; LICAS / Catholic NewsAgency 27.10.; Sunday Examiner 13.10.; 3.12; UCAN 6.12.; catholic.org.hk/en/media-20211204/; catholic.org.hk/en/the-episcopal-coat-of-arms/; www.bistum-essen.de/pressemenue/artikel/overbeck-gratuliert-hongkonger-bischof-stephen-chow-zur-weihe.
Katharina Feith, China-Zentrum e.V.
December 6, 2021