Beijing bishop to make rare visit to Hong Kong amid broader tensions

By Greg Torode

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Bishop of Beijing will visit Hong Kong later this month, building on a landmark visit to the Chinese capital by his Hong Kong counterpart in April, the Hong Kong Catholic diocese announced on Friday.

Diplomats say Bishop Joseph Li Shan’s visit will be closely watched, given tensions in the broader Chinese-Vatican relationship as well as fears among some Catholics that Beijing wants tighter control over religious affairs in Hong Kong.

Li is due to start the five-day visit on Nov. 14, a diocese statement said.

As well as meeting Cardinal Stephen Chow, the Bishop of Hong Kong, Li would meet different diocesan “offices to promote exchanges and interactions between the two dioceses”, the statement said.

Confirmation of the visit follows an invitation made by Cardinal Chow during his trip to Beijing – the first since the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Chow told Reuters in September shortly before he was made a cardinal that he hoped his new rank would help him boost the strained ties between the Vatican and Beijing.

“I think we have built up some type of relationships, some friendships,” Chow said, adding he hoped Hong Kong could be a “bridging” church.

Hong Kong has traditionally been seen as a regional Catholic hub on the edge of the Chinese mainland under officially-atheist Communist Party rule.

For decades mainland Catholics have been split between an official church loyal to Beijing and an underground flock loyal to the Pope, but an interim deal struck in 2018 between the Vatican and Beijing over the appointment of bishops was aimed at easing those tensions.

The confidential pact, which has been renewed twice, remains tenuous, with the Vatican complaining Beijing has broken it several times.

Conservatives in the Church have accused the Vatican of selling out to China by maintaining the accord, which has been renewed twice. The Vatican says an imperfect deal is better than no dialogue at all.

(Reporting By Greg Torode; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)