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New Hong Kong cardinal: Sharing ‘love of God,’ not conversions, goal of Church in China

Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow said Sept. 28, 2023, that evangelization in China today should focus on communicating the love of God “without the agenda of turning them into Catholics.” / Credit: Courtney Mares/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 28, 2023 / 12:11 pm (CNA).

Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow said Thursday that evangelization in China today should focus on communicating the love of God “without the agenda of turning them into Catholics.”

In an interview in Rome with CNA on Sept. 28, the bishop of Hong Kong, who will be made a cardinal in the consistory this weekend, spoke about his vision for evangelization in mainland China.

“I think it is important that we say that Pope Francis made a distinction. Evangelization is really to help people to understand the love of God — and the love of God without the agenda of turning them into Catholics — because that shouldn’t be the focus, as that focus would be very restrictive,” Chow said.

The cardinal-elect underlined that evangelization should help “them to come to understand our God means love, means goodwill and a better life.”

“Evangelization should be really coming to know God, who is love,” he said.

In Pope Francis’ travels to countries where Catholics are in the minority, the pope has made a distinction between “proselytism” and “evangelization.”

“Evangelization is essentially witness,” Francis told the Jesuits in Mozambique in 2019. “Proselytizing is convincing, but it is all about membership and takes your freedom away.”

The pope has also praised Venerable Matteo Ricci, a 16th-century Jesuit missionary and scholar, for his “proclamation of the Gospel” in China by proposing “the truth of the Christian faith and morality.”

The Chinese people have faced increased restrictions on religious freedom in the last decade. Catholic priests are only allowed to minister in recognized places of worship, which minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government implemented new “Measures on the Management of Religious Activity Sites,” which ban the display of religious symbols outdoors, require preaching to “reflect core socialist values,” and limit all religious activities to government-approved religious venues, according to China Aid.

Despite the restrictions, two bishops from mainland China have been permitted to travel to Rome to participate in the Synod on Synodality assembly in October.

Chow is also a synod delegate, personally nominated by Pope Francis to take part in the nearly monthlong assembly. He said that he is “excited that the laypeople, men and women, and religious, are represented as full voting members.”

The cardinal-elect has led the Diocese of Hong Kong since December 2021. Chow said that one of the biggest challenges facing Hong Kong Catholics is how “to provide good moral education … so that we have moral citizens.”

He underlined the importance of formation in the parishes so that laypeople can evangelize outside of the parish.

“Evangelization is to your social community. Each parish is connected to your social community. We need to go out, get out of our parish, and really to connect with the social community and serve them,” he said.

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