HONG KONG (UCAN) -- Eying Hong Kong's harmonious multicultural environment and mission possibilities, the Orthodox Church will set up a metropolitanate (archdiocese) for Hong Kong and Southeast Asia here in December.
The news was officially announced during the Nov. 5-7 visit to Hong Kong of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople, the first patriarch of Constantinople to visit the territory.
The metropolitanate will include Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. Currently, these countries along with Korea and Japan are under the jurisdiction of the New Zealand metropolitanate.
Patriarch Bartholomeos, 56, explained that the establishment of the metropolitanate is to take care of Orthodox Christians in its area who are deprived of pastoral care because they are living in a foreign place.
"Hong Kong is a multicultural place. Many religions can exist together harmoniously," said Luke Chow Man-chu, president of the St. Luke Orthodox community here and the only ethnic Chinese in its Hong Kong parish.
"The Church would also like to do mission (work) in Hong Kong," he added. There are about 100 Orthodox Christian expatriates in the Hong Kong community.
Though the future of religious freedom in the face of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997, has been worrying some religious believers here, Orthodox Father George Klapax is not overly concerned.
"The Orthodox Church has faced different kinds of political situations in the past," explained the priest. "We have little influence in politics, so we don't think we will have much problem here."
"We are confident in the future of Hong Kong," added Father Klapax, who is temporarily residing in the territory.
A metropolitan is to be elected for the new metropolitanate by mid-December and the Orthodox Church is looking for a new church site, since the existing one in Stanley Fort on Hong Kong Island is on loan from the government.
Chow said the Church has found an ideal location near the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin, New Territories, but has not finalized the decision.
During his visit, Patriarch Bartholomeos, spiritual leader of 450 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, was invited by the university's theology division to deliver a speech on "An Orthodox Response to Contemporary Issues."
The organizer, Reverend Lo Lung-kwong, who heads the theology division, welcomed the news of the new metropolitanate, saying it will give Hong Kong people an opportunity to know more about the Orthodox Church.
"The Orthodox Church is one of the three branches of Christianity, it is great the Church has finally come," the Protestant pastor added.
In his speech, Patriarch Bartholomeos expressed great concern over discrimination and nationalism. He called for unity and solidarity as "every kind of exclusion is returning and becoming stronger worldwide."
Other concerns he mentioned were over the ecology and "anti-life" phenomena such as wars, injustice and exploitation.
The Orthodox leader also invited institutional exchange between Hong Kong and Constantinople to deepen "understanding of the unity of the human race."
Constantinople, made the capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine, fell to the Turks in 1453 and subsequently became known as Istanbul.
The Church of Constantinople is one of the 15 autocephalous (self-governing under its own bishop) Churches that comprise the Orthodox Church. The patriarch of Constantinople, who resides in Istanbul, is considered the "first among equals" in the Orthodox hierarchy, his office a symbol of Church unity.