Hong Kong bishop Stephen Chow said Thursday he believed Beijing is open to “better dialogue” with the Vatican, with which relations have been strained for decades, and said the process should “move faster.”

Catholic bishop Stephen Chow
Future cardinal, Chinese bishop of Hong-Kong Stephen Chow Sau-Yan attends a consistory to create 21 new cardinals at St. Peter’s square in The Vatican on September 30, 2023. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP.

“I cannot speak for the Chinese government, but I know that people in the Chinese government, in China, want to have better dialogue,” he told reporters at the Vatican.

Chow is being made a cardinal by Pope Francis on Saturday, one of 21 new “Princes of the Church”, many of whom will have a role in choosing the next pontiff.

Commentators believe Chow will be key in improving the Church’s fraught relations with communist China, which severed ties with the Holy See in 1951.

The break forced Catholics to choose between membership of the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association or underground churches loyal to the pope.

Catholic mass for the Church in China
The Hong Kong Catholic mass for the Church in China on May 24, 2023. Photo: The Catholic Way.

A secretive 2018 agreement, since renewed, allows Beijing to nominate bishops for the pope’s approval, giving both sides a say over church leadership.

It was controversial, with some fearing China’s underground churches would become even more marginalised.

Chow acknowledged that in his diocese, in Hong Kong, there were differing views.

“There are always voices,” he said, saying some people supported it and some were “very suspicious”, both within and outside the Church.

“I think it’s important to have this dialogue, to have this agreement,” he said.

pope francis
Pope Francis. Photo: Flickr/Aleteia/Jeffrey Bruno.

He said he believed it was “moving too slowly, we need to move faster and have more dialogue, deeper dialogue”.

Asked if the 2018 deal was a step towards diplomatic ties, he added: “Pope Francis made it clear from the start, that this is a pastoral purpose, to help the Church in China.”

He added: “The main reason is not about diplomatic relationships. That may become the future, we don’t know, but that’s not the primary purpose.”

During a recent visit to Mongolia, Pope Francis made numerous overtures to Beijing, expressing his admiration and respect and saying governments had “nothing to fear” from the Catholic Church.

He also told Catholics in China to be “good Christians and good citizens”.

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