HONG KONG – When Bishop Michael Yeung took over as head of the diocese of Hong Kong this past August, he inherited a role that had been previously occupied by vocal players in the Catholic Church over the past two decades – eager to use their post not just to make a mark on Hong Kong, but the broader international context in which they were situated.
Both Cardinals Joseph Zen and John Tong Hon – who had his resignation accepted by Pope Francis in August – have been visible prelates not just in their dioceses, but also in the Vatican’s global affairs.
At 71 years old, Yeung is energetic, though at times understated. When he speaks of issues facing his diocese one can sense he views it as a field hospital, with his role marked by concern for his flock’s immediate needs, rather than an eagerness to immerse himself in larger inter-Church debates and conflict.
Yeung was born in Shanghai, but moved with his family to Hong Kong at age four to escape the forces of China’s Cultural Revolution. He spoke of his love of Chinese culture and history as very much in his blood, leading to an approach to Vatican-Chinese relations that emphasizes the positives rather than its present divides.
“You know the population of China…it is 1.4 billion. If just one percent of the whole population becomes Catholic, it will be more than Europe,” he reminded me.
“There are many people in China that have still not had a chance to receive the gospel, so I think the Holy Father has a good reason to consider every day how to spread the gospel on Mainland China. It’s not for political purposes,” he added.
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