Pope Francis named on Monday Stephen Chow as the new bishop of Hong Kong, a long-delayed appointment that comes amid Sino-Vatican frictions and growing Western concern over human rights in the global financial hub.
Chow, 61, head of Hong Kong’s Jesuit order, will replace Cardinal John Tong, who has held the post in a caretaker capacity following the death of the previous bishop, Michael Yeung, in January 2019.
Senior clerics in Hong Kong familiar with the situation said the new bishop must ease tensions among a flock divided between those wanting the diocese to do more to defend Hong Kong’s waning freedoms and others, including some powerful establishment figures, who want a less confrontational approach.
For decades, the former British colony has been a strong Catholic beach-head on the edge of a mainland China under officially-atheist Communist Party rule.
Many of Hong Kong’s senior government and business figures are Catholics, including the city’s leader Carrie Lam, as well as opposition activists, such as tabloid media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was recently detained under a sweeping new national security law.
The appointment of Chow follows two failed attempts to fill the post. Previous potential candidates were considered either too close to Beijing for the comfort of many local Catholics, or potentially unacceptable to mainland officials due to their prominence during the months of sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests that rocked the city through 2019.
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