During a recent visit to Hong Kong, Beijing Archbishop Li Shan stressed the need to more closely combine the Catholic faith and Chinese culture, saying the Church ought to pursue evangelization efforts in the spirit of “Sinicization.”
In opening remarks for a theological conference in Hong Kong titled, “The Synodal Church and the Church in China: Communion, Participation, Mission,” Li said the combination of faith and Chinese culture is a source of wisdom.
“We pray that under the guidance of the revelation of the Holy Spirit of God, under the direction of the spirit of the Church’s communion, and under the diligent exploration of all of us, the Chinese Church will be able to promote the work of evangelization and spirituality along the direction of Sinicization,” he said.
The term “Sinicization” occasionally has generated controversy among critics who see it not merely as denoting an intersection of faith and culture, but also a pretext for extending control over the Church by China’s Communist authorities.
The Church, Li said, must “keep abreast of the times and promptly adjust the focus, methods and modes of evangelization as society develops and progresses.”
“It should strive to fulfil its proper functions, engage in social responsibility, and pay attention to people’s livelihoods,” he said.
Both the current bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Stephen Chow, and the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, were present at the conference, with Chow insisting on the need to understand the concept of mission before pursuing any actions in service of it, including empathy and sharing with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Li arrived in Hong Kong Nov. 13 for a visit intended to strengthen ties between the two Churches and to facilitate stronger communication between the Holy See and mainland China.
The 58-year-old prelate is president of the state-sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which has transferred and appointed bishops without Rome’s approval, despite a controversial 2018 agreement on episcopal appointments.
His visit to Hong Kong followed a similar visit by Chow to Beijing in April, where he met with Church officials and visited diocesan projects, marking a significant milestone, as it was the first time a Hong Kong bishop traveled to Beijing since 1985, when Hong Kong was still a British colony.
Chow on several occasions has indicated that these mutual visits will increase, as both sides aim at strengthening ties.
Li was joined by four other delegates during his visit, including Father Zhen Xuebin, secretary general of the Archdiocese of Beijing.
His visit began with a Vespers service at the diocesan curia in Hong Kong, and on Nov. 14, according to The Sunday Examiner, Hong Kong’s diocesan paper, he visited the Holy Spirit seminary in Aberdeen, where he thanked Chow for the invitation.
He also thanked the Diocesan Center and the local Caritas office for their welcome, saying, “We have seen the diocese’s concrete development in the process, and we have learned a great deal for our seminary and parish. We will work hard for the better development of our Church.”
At the seminary, Tong was there to welcome the Beijing delegation and underscored the Holy Spirit Center’s historic role as a bridge between China and Hong Kong for research and other studies. Mass was celebrated with the Beijing delegation and several representatives of the Hong Kong diocese at the seminary that evening.
Li met with various diocesan offices in bid to promote further interaction between the Churches in Beijing and Hong Kong.
On Nov. 15, the last day of his visit, Li celebrated Mass alongside Chow, Tong, Bishop Joseph Yang Yongqiang of the Diocese of Zhoucun in China, and Auxiliary Bishop of Hong Kong Joseph Ha Chi-shing, as well as other priests and members of the Beijing delegation.
Chow thanked Li and the rest of his delegation for their visit, saying, “This is a Church of communion, a Church of the Chinese people. So, with thankfulness, we ask that Jesus Christ Our Lord bless our hearts and our efforts.”
He asked that faithful present pray for the fruits of an upcoming theological conference to be held in the year at the Diocesan Center.
Li, who gave the homily, according to the Sunday Examiner, stressed the importance of fostering an attitude of faith, praise and gratefulness.
Chow at the end of Mass voiced hope that one day, all Chinese Catholics would be able to pray together in the same place.
Amid a decades-long rift between Church officialdom and Chinese authorities, Hong Kong has been a Catholic stronghold on the edge of mainland China, where Catholics and members of other religions have at times faced persecution under the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party rule.
In 2018 the Vatican and the China’s Communist government signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops aimed at unifying the official, government-sanctioned Church and the so-called “underground” Church loyal to Rome.
While that deal has been violated by Chinese authorities, Pope Francis nevertheless has gone to great lengths to reach out, praising them publicly and sending clear messages of reassurance during his Aug. 31-Sept. 4 visit to Mongolia.
In July, when the Vatican announced its decision to formalize the unauthorized transfer of a Chinese bishop to the diocese of Shanghai, Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin released an interview with Vatican News, the Vatican’s state-run media platform, suggesting that an official liaison office be established in Beijing to enhance contact and mutual collaboration.
During last month’s Synod of Bishops on Synodality, two bishops from mainland China participated in the first part of the gathering but left roughly halfway through, due to what the Vatican said were pastoral needs in their dioceses.
Speaking at a Nov. 10 reception held in honor of his elevation as cardinal earlier this year, and which was attended by various Church and civil authorities, including leaders of other faith communities, Chow stressed the need to both build trust and respect differences, saying this involves taking risks.
As he often has in the past, Chow underlined his vision for the Diocese of Hong Kong as a bridge between China and the universal Church, saying this is “a delicate but most important mission,” according to the Sunday Examiner.
“I can take solace in the goodwill of the Vatican and the Chinese government,” he said, saying, “As long as there is goodwill, other challenges, even distrust, can be overcome with reasonable risk-taking and God’s grace.”
Building trust “is, indeed, a risky business, but irreplaceable if we want to move forward as a body,” he said.
Chow also spoke of his experience during the Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops on Synodality in Rome, calling the experience one of “in-depth listening” that builds on convergences, while also respecting areas of divergence.
“Divergence is, in fact, an invitation for us to go deeper with greater openness in search for possible common ground while holding tensions from those divergences with respect in the meantime,” he said, adding, “Honestly, we need to learn, and we are learning. Many of us find the process itself transforming.”
Chow stressed the willingness of the Church to cooperate with all people of goodwill in bringing healing to a society that has faced many challenges.
Acknowledging that some choose to focus on what they believe to be negative impacts of religion on society, Chow insisted that religion “does carry positive moral influence with which the government and institutions can join forces, combating life-sapping ailments, such as hatred, loss, helplessness, self-destruction, etc.”
“I want to assure you that the Catholic Church with the mission of sharing the inclusive love of God has been doing our part and is ready to collaborate with people of goodwill,” he said.