Sheshan (AsiaNews) - Thousands of pilgrims from Shanghai and across the country have gathered to pray at the Our Lady of Sheshan Basilica today, 24 May, feast day of Mary Help of Christians, anniversary of the Day of Prayer for the Church in China set aside by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, a day that also marks the feast day of the national Marian shrine.
Amid a drizzle, at half-past 8, Fr Thaddeus Ma Daqin, vicar general of Shanghai, led the crowd of Catholics in a procession from the Mid-hill Church, carrying the Statue of the Blessed Mother, up to the hilltop basilica.
Once at the hilltop church, Father Ma and almost 40 priests celebrated the Eucharist. Sheshan novices sang during the Mass. There were more than 3,000 faithful inside the basilica for the Mass.
In his homily, Father Ma explained the 'Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan' written by Pope Benedict XVI for this particular day, Joseph, a Shanghai Catholic, told AsiaNews.
He also called the participating faithful to give reverence to our Blessed Mother and to worship Jesus Christ. "Father Ma's warm and emotional homily moved the faithful at the scene," Joseph said.
It rained throughout the Mass, but the hot and humid weather did not deter the pilgrims. "Instead, they prayed zealously and fervently in the Mass," he said.
In the past, Our Lady of Sheshan shrine used to draw up to 200,000 pilgrims on the feast day, from all over China.
Since 2008, a year after the pope set aside that day as a Day of Prayer for the Church in China, the government has not allowed pilgrims from any diocese, except that of Shanghai, to visit the shrine in Sheshan.
For this reason, many dioceses mark the feast day in shrines closer to hope with Masses, Eucharistic adorations and vigils.
This year, the feast day saw a new church consecrated in Shanxi province.
Fr John, a priest from the open Church in Hebei province, told AsiaNews that he led a pilgrimage to Sheshan earlier this month. He found the security was very tight, as many plainclothes police were monitoring the pilgrimage site.
He said he prayed for the fervency of the faithful and unity in his diocese.
Similarly, several priests from various dioceses shared the same prayer intention.
Some underground priests told AsiaNews that they could not have big celebrations as security was tight, but they did remind their parishioners to pray for the suffering Church in China and for harmony in their respective dioceses.
"I especially prayed for the all the bishops and pastors in China, especially those who are under detention. May the Lord strengthen their faith. We feel lonely in this struggle for the freedom of faith," Fr Peter, an underground priest, noted.
Last week, a priest and a seminarian from the underground community in Baoding were taken into custody by police and taken to an unknown place.
They are likely to undergo sessions of political indoctrination and brain washing to get them to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, whose goal is to control Catholics and set up a Church independent of the pope.
Bishop Li Yi of Lu'an (Changzhi, Shanxi), 89, died this afternoon, on the special Day of Prayer for China. Ordained in 1949, he was consecrated as coadjutor of Changzhi in 1998.