Pope Francis has appointed Stephen Chow Sau-yan, SJ, as the new Bishop of Hong Kong in a long-awaited appointment. Appointing a bishop to Hong Kong took more than two years, as Vatican officials searched for a candidate who could earn trust amid a complex and fractious political environment
The diocese has been without a permanent leader for more than two years, since the January 2019 death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung.
Fr. Chow has been provincial of the Chinese province of the Society of Jesus since January 2018. He has held several appointments in the Hong Kong diocese, including a term on the diocesan presbyteral council from 2013 to 2017, and membership of the diocesan educational council since 2017. No date for his installation has yet been set.
Sources close to the appointment confirmed The Pillar on Monday that Chow’s appointment was the fruit of almost a year of deliberation over his candidacy, and that the Jesuit priest had initially refused the appointment. He is the third candidate to have received papal approval for the job, but the first to have been publicly announced; the previous two candidates were withdrawn over political concerns prior to public announcement.
The vacancy of the Diocese of Hong Kong has come at a time of acute political pressure in Hong Kong, and ongoing tension over the Vatican’s controversial agreement with China on the appointment of bishops for Chinese dioceses.
Shortly after Bishop Yeung died in 2019, widespread civil unrest and pro-democracy demonstrations began in Hong Kong, in response to attempts by the local government to pass a law which would have allowed some Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to the mainland for trial.
The proposed law was eventually abandoned after months of escalating protests.
The Vatican’s first choice to replace Yeung was Hong Kong auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, but his appointment was cancelled after it had already received papal approval, because of objections of the Chinese government following Ha’s public attendance at pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019, according to multiple sources in Rome and Hong Kong.
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