Pope Benedict XVI launched the idea of dedicating a day of prayer to the Church in China each year on 24 May in his Letter to Chinese Catholics, published in June 2007. On that day Chinese Catholics celebrate the liturgical memory of Mary, Help of Christians, who is venerated at the Sheshan shrine, a site to visit especially on that day and throughout the month of May.
By instituting this prayer the Pontiff aimed at strengthening the unity between underground and official Catholics and their communion with the successor of Peter. By calling on the Lord for strength, he sought help for Chinese Catholics so that they can persevere in bearing Christian witness and this despite all the suffering and persecution they have to endure.
In the meantime news have reached AsiaNews that the Chinese authorities are imposing limits once more on access to the shrine, that no pilgrimage from any diocese other than Shanghai and Sheshan will be allowed.
Last year, various provincial authorities issued restrictions for would-be pilgrims who planned to visit the Sheshan shrine. Instead they required Catholics who lived in other jurisdictions to limit their pilgrimage to local shrines. This had the effect that Catholics from outside of China were stopped from reaching the Marian shrine which is located near Shanghai.
Again this year, indications are that Catholics will have to pray only in their own diocese of residence. The Shanghai city government even announced special traffic controls between 30 April and 31 May.
Despite all the restrictions (which did not apply to Shanghai Catholics) at least 2,500 people took part in the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Sheshan last year.
According to local Catholics, restrictions by local authorities have been imposed because Sheshan has become the symbol of loyalty to the Pope and a place where official and underground Catholics can meet.
For this reason the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association has fought against this state of affairs in order to better divide and control Catholics in its bid to set up a Catholic Church that is independent of the Holy See.