Pope’s message well received

The overture Pope Francis made to China earlier this month while he was in Mongolia was “well received” by Beijing’s communist government, which has given a mainland bishop permission to visit Hong Kong, the bishop of Hong Kong said.

Bishop Stephen Chow, who will be made a cardinal today, also said that he hopes his new rank will help him improve relations between the Vatican and Beijing, which have been strained recently.

In the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar on Sept 3, the pope sent greetings to China, calling its citizens a “noble” people and asking Catholics in China to be “good Christians and good citizens”.

When he made the comments, Francis called up Chow and his predecessor as bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon, to flank him as he spoke.

“I was touched and I know the Holy Father was playing hard to get the message across to China. I was told later from some reliable source that his message was well received in China, even in the government,” Chow said.

Chow, Hong Kong’s top Catholic cleric, in April made the first visit to the Chinese capital by a bishop of the former British colony, which has 600,000 Catholics, in nearly 30 years.

“I think we have built up some type of relationships, some friendships,” Chow said, speaking of his April visit

“I have invited bishop (Joseph) Li Shan, the bishop of Beijing to come down to Hong Kong. I think they are really considering it very seriously so hopefully this will happen,” Chow said.

Asked if Li had received permission to travel, Chow said “He has, he has.” Asked if Li would be coming, Chow said “I think this has to be finalised,” but he repeated that Li had received permission.

Beijing has been following a policy of “Sinicisation” of religion, trying to root out foreign influences and enforce obedience to the Communist Party. There are an estimated 10-12 million Catholics in China. — Reuters

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