HONG KONG – The Catholic Church in Hong Kong is called to speak out in cases of injustice, but it does not compete with the government, the bishop of the Chinese territory told CNA on the occasion of his ad limina visit to Rome.
Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung was making an ad limina visit along with the Bishop of Macau; the two territories are former British and Portuguese dependencies which are now part of the People’s Republic of China.
As a special administrative region, Hong Kong has a large degree of autonomy from mainland China, with its own political and economic system. The territory was a British colony from 1842 until 1997.
The bishops met with Pope Francis June 23, at the end of a week filled with meetings at Vatican offices, including a two-hour-long meeting with the Secretariat of State.
Yeung, who succeeded as Bishop of Hong Kong in August 2017, said that Hong Kong can have an influence on the Chinese way of life, as “Hong Kong is called to participate in China’s modernization, and not only from the political-economic point of view. The development of the country is not merely based on the economy.”
He added that the Catholic Church “mustn’t compete with the communist party for power and authority in this world. The Lord Jesus never told the disciples to compete with the Roman empire.”
Yeung underscored that “the Church has, however, her role to play. She is called to have a good attitude to dialogue, and at the same time she is called to tell the truth, and to speak out against social injustice, when the latter happens.”
The relation with the Church in mainland China is described by Yeung as “delicate.”
He explained that “the Chinese authorities’ message is that they do not want any interference in mainland China, and the most recent bill on foreign NGOs goes in that direction: Everything must be approved by the government, and the government has the right to know whence the money comes.”
According to the law, foreign NGOs must register with the Ministry of Public Security or its provincial-level equivalents before establishing an office within mainland China.
The law paralleled increasing government regulations in many areas of public life.
The law affects aid that Hongkongers might send to mainland China, as “no one has certainty that the money arrives to its destination, and even a mere money transfer is considered a possible interference,” Yeung said.
Speaking about the long-rumored, potential Vatican–China deal, Yeung said that “the Church has a very clear role: She does not compete with the government; she is called to speak out when there are injustices.”
He added that “we understand that the Holy See is entertaining a dialogue with the government in Beijing, and it is normal that there are also people against this. We trust in our Lord. Fifty years ago, the door between the Vatican and Beijing was shut, and now we are struggling to find a very narrow opening.”
Yeung concluded that he does not know “where the agreement will take us,” but he believes that “God will take us on the right way. There have been mistakes, and perhaps there will be others. We are human. But our Lord will guide us.”
Yeung said that one of the topics of discussion with Vatican officials during the ad limina was the potential registration of a Catholic university of Hong Kong.
At the moment, the Caritas Institute for Higher Education has been established, and counts some 2,000 students. In 2014, it was announced that the school aims to be recognized as a university by education officials within five years.
Once the recognition will be finalized, it will be named “St. Francis University.”
According to Yeung, the Chinese government has an interest in accrediting a Catholic university in Hong Kong because of the “one country, two systems” principle which articulates the autonomous relationship between the territory and mainland China.
“We can have our way of doing things,” the bishop explained. “I think Hong Kong can be very important for China, as it is its open window to the world. If the central government were to shut down everything in Hong Kong, it would prove that the principle ‘one country, two systems’ cannot work.”