In an unprecedented move, the Vatican has directly appointed an interim leader for the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, bringing Cardinal John Tong out of retirement following the death of Bishop Michael Yeung last week.
Ordinarily, local church officials would select a provisional leader, but Tong, 79, said he received a letter notifying him of his appointment on Saturday.
Tong, who retired in 2017 and was replaced by Yeung, said he was shocked by the move and he put the "rare" decision down to the Vatican's "special care for Hong Kong".
He said the Vatican may have decided on him partly because he is familiar with the diocese and because he stepped down not so long ago, adding that he believes it will be a transitional arrangement for "a rather short period of time".
Asked by reporters whether the relationship between the Vatican and Beijing would affect the appointment of a permanent leader in Hong Kong, Tong said whether a candidate is accepted by the central government is not their "main concern", and they are concerned about religious, rather than political, matters.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha had been tipped to fill the permanent post. But observers say the Vatican appointing him could offend Beijing, as Ha was a supporter of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.
Ha was acting interim leader for two days after Yeung died last Thursday of liver failure.
At a press conference on Monday evening, officials also said they had been "too busy" to announce Tong's interim appointment any sooner.