Bishops primed on 'sinicization'
Mainland bishops and religious leaders briefed senior Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on President Xi Jinping's vision of religion with "Chinese characteristics," according to four clerics.
Clerics described it as Beijing's most assertive move yet in its attempts to influence Hong Kong's diocese. It marks the first time the two sides had met formally.
The meeting also sheds light on what some describe as the expanding role of the central government liaison office in Hong Kong, which formally represents the mainland in the city but has traditionally kept a low profile.
The liaison office and officials from the State Administration of Religious Affairs monitored the Zoom sessions as three leading bishops and about 15 religious figures from the mainland's state-backed Catholic church and about 15 senior clergymen in Hong Kong participated in the day-long meeting.
Without mentioning Xi or issuing any instructions or orders, the mainland speakers described how Xi's policy of "sinicization" aligned with long-term Vatican policies of inculturation - adapting Christianity in traditional, non-Christian cultures.
Xi has been an active proponent of sinicization, setting out policies to foster religions with what he calls "Chinese characteristics" and closer ties to the party and state. It includes tying religions more closely to Chinese culture, patriotism and goals of the Communist Party and state to achieve Xi's "Chinese dream."
The meeting came weeks ahead of the ordination of new Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan, a moderate Vatican appointment that followed two failed attempts to fill the post after Beijing sought to influence the decision, amid other pressures.
While some of Hong Kong's government and commercial elites are Catholic and pro-Beijing, other Catholics have long been active in the pro-democracy and anti-government movements.
The church in Hong Kong operates essentially on pre-1997 lines, staying in close touch with the Vatican.
The October meeting ended with a loose understanding by both sides that future sessions should be held but no dates were set.
"The pressure is building on us in Hong Kong some of us see [sinicization] as code for Xi-nification," one of them said. "We are going to have to be clever to resist."