For the first time in almost 40 years, a Hong Kong bishop is scheduled to visit mainland China in April. As the Hong Kong diocese announced on Thursday, Stephen Bishop Chow travels to the Chinese capital for five days at the invitation of Beijing Bishop Li Shan. The visit underscores the role of the diocese as a "bridge church," according to its website. This refers to the late Pope John Paul II, who had said that the mission of the Hong Kong Church was to build a bridge between the Catholic community in China and the universal Church.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

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The invitation was issued last year, it continues. In October, China and the Vatican extended their secret agreement on the appointment of bishops by two years, despite international criticism. Since the conclusion of the agreement in 2018, the Communist Party has continued to increase pressure on the underground church in China. Former Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Cardinal Zen has sharply criticized the agreement. He always acted in Rome as an advocate of the underground church and conveyed secret messages of the Chinese underground bishops, which cannot express themselves publicly.

The incumbent Bishop Chow, on the other hand, is apolitical. In November, he had said in an interview that he hoped to visit the mainland. He is not afraid of "brainwashing". It is only the second invitation of this kind since the founding of the People's Republic. In 1985, John Bishop Wu was also received by representatives of the communist leadership. The visit served to allay fears of suppression of religious freedom in Hong Kong in the wake of Hong Kong's return of Britain to China. Since the crackdown on the protest movement in 2019, there have been new fears in Hong Kong of the Communist Party taking over the church.