Rome (AsiaNews) – The first gathering of Chinese Catholics in Italy received the greetings and blessing of the Pope through Card Ivan Dias, prefect for Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. The occasion was the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, which the Pope set for the day Chinese Catholics celebrate Mary, Help for Christians, who is venerated at the Sheshan shrine, near Shanghai.
Cardinal Dias led the Mass in Rome’s Saint Mary Major Basilica along with hundreds of priests from the official and unofficial Church, as well as from other nationalities. He stressed that the unity expressed today by the Chinese is an important fruit of Benedict XVI’s work.
Often, under the pressure of the regime’s propaganda, Catholics from the official Church are afraid to publicly show their attachment to the Pope, concerned they might be accused of being anti-patriotic. By contrast underground Catholics tend to be intransigent towards official Catholics. But for the cardinal “in heaven there will be no official or underground Catholics because we shall all be children of God. And for the Pope this unity should also be seen on this earth.”
The prelate referred to the “suffering of the past”, calling on everyone to forgive past wrongs. He also highlighted recent signs of thawing relations between China and the Vatican like the 7 May concert by the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra which “offered by government authorities to the Holy Father” as well as the Pontiff’s appeal and prayers for the victims and survivors of the Sichuan earthquake.
Conducted with solemnity, the ceremony included songs in Chinese and prayers in Italian and Chinese. The presence of hundreds of Catholics friends of China and overseas Chinese, including some from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, marked the religious and non-political nature of the event.
Groups of Chinese immigrants came by bus or train from Milan, Treviso, Prato, Florence and Naples. Upon their arrival in Rome at dawn some visited St Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum to remember Christian martyrs of every epoch, including those of China.
In the universal prayer during the Eucharist, prayers were recited for the Pope and Chinese authorities, but it was decided that no prayers should be said for the faithful in prison.
During the canon the “martyrs, especially those of China” were remembered.
At the end of the service the assembly recited the prayer Benedict XVI wrote for our Lady of Sheshan. Cardinal Dias reminded everyone present that today in all the churches of the world these words were recited in prayer, urging them to be united and undertake the evangelisation of China and of Chinese immigrant communities in Italy.