In what was described as a “surprise move,” Pope Francis named the head of the Chinese province of the Jesuits as the new Catholic bishop of Hong Kong.
Jesuit priest Stephen Chow Sau-yan, 61, has been named the ninth Catholic bishop of the Chinese special administrative region on Monday, May 17.
The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without a bishop since Jan. 3, 2019, when Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died after leading the diocese for just 17 months.
Cardinal John Tong Hon, 80, who succeeded Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kuin and was bishop of Hong Kong prior to Bishop Yeung, served as apostolic administrator since then.
The Holy See was supposed to announce the appointment of a new bishop for the former British colony in June last year but was delayed supposedly due to concerns from local clergy and lay Catholics.
In April 2019, the Vatican started consultations with 60 members of the local Church as part of the process to select a new bishop.
The consultation was later expanded, with the Vatican sending questionnaires to more members of the clergy and lay people who were selected at random.
In September last year, Cardinal Zen made a personal appeal to the pope to hasten the appointment of a new bishop.
He flew to the Vatican on the eve of the renewal of a controversial agreement between the Holy See and Beijing.
He said the appointment of a new bishop for Hong Kong would play a crucial rule in the Vatican’s relationship with China.
Beijing not consulted
The Jesuit magazine America quoted a senior Vatican official as saying that “the Holy See had not consulted Beijing on the nomination of the bishop for Hong Kong.”
The report said that “notwithstanding the fact that the Holy See has a ‘one China policy’ it does not consult Beijing on the nomination of bishops for Macau, Hong Kong or Taiwan.”
The America source also said that the three ecclesiastical jurisdictions “are not part of the provisional agreement that the Vatican signed with Beijing in September 2018 and renewed in October 2020.
The report said the election of Father Chow “will come as a surprise to many.”
Bishop-elect Chow was born in Hong Kong on Aug. 7, 1959. He obtained a master’s degree in education and psychology in 1984 from the University of Minnesota.
He joined the Society of Jesus in September of that same year, at the age of 25, and did his novitiate in Dublin, Ireland.
After gaining a licentiate in philosophy in Dublin, he took his first vows on Sept. 27, 1986.
Teacher, school administrator
He then taught at the Jesuit-run Wan Yan college in Kowloon from 1988 to 1990, and then studied theology at the Holy Spirit seminary in Hong Kong from 1990 to 1993.
He was ordained priest by Cardinal John Baptist Wu in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong on July 16, 1994.
He later went to the Loyola University Chicago to study organizational development and obtained a master’s degree.
From 1996 to 2000 he taught, did chaplaincy work, and was school manager at Wah Yan College, Kowloon.
After gaining a doctorate in human psychology and development from Harvard University in 2006, he took his final vows as a Jesuit the following year.
He then went on to serve as supervisor of the Jesuit Wah Yan colleges in Hong Kong and Kowloon from 2006 to 2021.
In 2017, he was appointed provincial of the China province of the Jesuits that includes Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China.
There are more than 300 priests in Hong Kong, most of whom are members of religious orders, serving a diocese of more than 600,000 Catholics.