In his 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics Benedict XVI had launched the idea of a World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, to be held each May 24th the feast of Mary Help of Christians, who is particularly venerated in the Marian Sanctuary of Sheshan, a few kilometres distance from Shanghai. The Pope’s intention is that through prayer unity may grow within the Church in China, as well as its bond with St Peter’s Successor. The Sheshan Sanctuary, a site of pilgrimage for over a century, is the ideal place given that draws Catholics from the Official and Underground Church. But since the Pope instituted the day of prayer it has become increasingly difficult for Catholics to access Sheshan. This year, like the previous year, police enforced strict traffic rules for the entire Month of May and diocese advised the faithful against making the pilgrimage to Sheshan. This year even the diocese of Shanghai – the only diocese with unlimited access – promoted the pilgrimage for May 23rd, but in a very subdued manner, without even advertising it. In the years beforehand, up to 20 thousand pilgrims visited the sanctuary. To date only a few thousand have arrived.
Other diocese chose to organise pilgrimages to local Marian sanctuaries. AsiaNews sources report that in Hebei, the region with the highest number of Catholics, underground communities had to go without mass because of a lack of priests. This is due to a strict control across the region that forbids public gatherings and to the fact that at least 10 underground priests are already in prison for having celebrated masses outside locations approved by the Office for Religious Affairs.
Yesterday the Holy See issued the Compendium of the Pope’s Letter to Chinese Catholics, which readdresses the themes of the Letter in a question and answer format, to aid better understanding. The Compendium is published in simplified and traditional Chinese and English. Still today however access to the Vatican’s website in Chinese is blocked and it is impossible to decipher or download the website’s contents, including the Pope’s Letter in Chinese.