08/10/2004, 00.00
POPE - LOURDES - CHINA
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In spirit Chinese Catholics join pilgrim Pope in Lourdes

A message from one priest: "Your Holiness, we cannot be there in person but we are with you in our prayers. With all their suffering, all Chinese Catholics place themselves in Mary's trusting care." On the Feast of the Assumption, many faithful will receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – "Your Holiness! Please, remember us always in your prayers, especially when you are in Lourdes. Most Chinese Catholics will not be there but in spirit shall accompany you on your journey, and shall remember you in their prayers as they recite the Holy Rosary. All Chinese Catholics place themselves in Mary's trusting care." This is the message a Chinese priest conveyed to AsiaNews that it may come to Pope Wojtyla's attention during his pilgrimage in Lourdes.

Chinese Catholics are following the Pope's journey to Lourdes for the devotion to the Sanctuary in the Pyrenees is widespread in China as a result of the traditions French missioners brought. For them Lourdes was and is the "Marian Sanctuary par excellence."

John Paul II's pilgrimage overlaps with the Feast of the Assumption. As in the past the faithful are preparing the celebration with novenas and rosaries. Upon the announcement of his pilgrimage people began praying that his journey to Lourdes be crowned with success.

According to the Chinese priest who sent the aforementioned message to the Pope, "the Feast of the Assumption is Mother's Day for Chinese Catholics and a time to show affection and devotion to the Celestial Mother. This year China's faithful will be close to the Pope as he honours Mary on the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception."

During the Feast of the Assumption many parishes will perform baptisms and celebrate other sacraments. In Bei Tang (Saint Saviour) Parish in Beijing, two groups of catechumens will be baptised, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon, the latter made up of children who will also receive their First Communion. The same will happen elsewhere.

The priest added a request for the Pope. "Your Holiness! We ask you to entrust to Mary the children and adults who are going to be baptised, that she may protect and guide them in their faith. With their suffering, all Chinese Catholics place themselves in Mary's trusting care."

The Feast of the Assumption is a time in which Chinese Catholics get together. From the countryside many faithful travel to the cities to take part in the solemn ceremonies. Friends, relatives, even parishes, open their doors to them for they are mostly poor and often come on foot. For our Chinese priest, "this, too, represents a kind of pilgrimage that brings believers closer in spirit to the Holy Father."

Out of a population of 1.28 billion, Chinese Catholics represent around 1%. Worship is authorised only in places and by personnel registered with the State Administration of Religious Affairs whilst believers and bishops belonging to the so-called "Underground Church" are isolated and frequently jailed for refusing to submit to government control.

With four out every five bishops authorised by the government following the Pope and the Vatican, Beijing's attempts to create a Chinese Church, which date back to Mao Tze Dong, have so far failed.

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