Prestigieux Head of China’s State-Backed Catholic Church Begins Historic Trip to Hong Kong

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Prestigieux Head of China’s State-Backed Catholic Church Begins Historic Trip to Hong Kong
Prestigieux Head of China’s State-Backed Catholic Church Begins Historic Trip to Hong Kong

The head of the Catholic Church in China, appointed by the state-controlled church, embarked on a historic visit to Hong Kong at the invitation of the city’s pope-appointed Roman Catholic cardinal. This marks the first official visit by a Beijing bishop in history. Joseph Li, installed as an archbishop, toured the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and engaged in various activities during his five-day visit. The invitation, extended by Cardinal Stephen Chow during his landmark trip to Beijing, is seen as a symbolic gesture to potentially strengthen Sino-Vatican relations.

During the visit, Li participated in evening prayers, exchanged gifts with Cardinal Chow, and planned meetings with different diocesan offices to enhance exchanges between the two dioceses. This marks the first official visit by a Beijing bishop to Hong Kong, with specific details undisclosed.

The historical backdrop includes the 1951 severance of diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Vatican. Catholics in China are divided between the state-sanctioned church and an underground church loyal to the pope. While the Vatican recognizes both factions, it claims the exclusive right to appoint bishops. Li’s 2007 installation had Vatican approval.

A 2018 accord between the Vatican and China on bishop nominations has faced violations by Beijing, including the unilateral appointment of a new bishop in Shanghai. Pope Francis, in September, asserted positive relations but acknowledged the need to demonstrate the Church’s independence. The 2018 agreement has faced criticism, notably from Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was detained and fined under a national security law.

The visit holds significance in fostering communication and exchanges, potentially impacting the delicate relationship between China and the Vatican.

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