Hong Kong’s Roman Catholic diocese welcomed the naming of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis, with its officials hoping he could lead millions of followers through “uneasy times”.
“We hope all Catholic followers will pray for him,” Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong Vicar General Reverend Michael Yeung said on Thursday at a press conference to discuss the appointment of Bergoglio.
Bergoglio, the first Jesuit pope from Argentina, was elected after five rounds of voting in the cardinal conclave to the delight of followers waiting outside the Sistine Chapel.
The diocese of Hong Kong, which remains a unique place on the soil of China where religion can be practiced freely, will hold a ritual before Holy Week, starting on Palm Sunday on March 24, to commemorate the new pope’s appointment. The ritual is expected to be led by cardinal John Tong Hon.
In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has been marred by sex scandals and poor governance in the top echelon of its leadership.
When asked if Pope Francis can improve Sino-Vatican relations, Yeung said the choice of the name Francis by the first Jesuit pope was an “obvious” signal the pope was “extending hands of friendship” to Beijing as it referred to St Francis Xavier, a co-founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuit order.
St Francis was one of the first Catholic evangelists to popularise the religion in Asia. He died in 1552 on Shangchuan Island off the coast of Guangdong province. While the saint never achieved his ambition of spreading Catholicism across China, he is credited with laying the groundwork for later Jesuit missions, which helped build bridges between Europe and the Middle Kingdom in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
One of St Francis’s bones is kept as a relic in Macau, and two schools in Hong Kong are named after him.
But Yeung added: “It takes two to tango. The Vatican is always willing to have a dialogue with the Chinese government. But it seems China is not very eager to do so,” he said.
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said just a week ago he did talk about China with then-Cardinal Bergoglio in the Vatican, for about five minutes, when they sat together during a farewell session for Benedict attended by cardinals from around the world.
“I told him the current situation [in China] was very difficult, as not only have there been no improvements over the past few years, [the situation] has moved backward,” Zen said. “He listened to me patiently,” Zen said, adding that Bergoglio did not respond to him specifically.
Separately, Yeung said that as there were two popes in the Vatican now, he hoped Pope Francis would carefully manage his relations with Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who recently resigned but is still seen as an influential religious figure, to avoid any misunderstanding.
Catholic Gloria Wong, 55, said outside the Cathedral on Caine Road that she hoped Pope Francis would lead Catholics around the world, promote peace and help underprivileged. She added she hoped the Pope would “keep abreast with the times”.
When asked about his expectations on how Bergoglio would handle the high-profile sex and finance scandals the church is embroiled in, Yeung said: “Sexual scandals are not limited to the Catholic church alone. Actually they happen everywhere, in many organisations and government bureaus. People are [just] paying more attention to the church.”
Yeung also said that he expected the Vatican’s position on homosexuality would not change just because there is a new Pope.