(AsiaNews) - Chinese pilgrims are not welcome in the Sheshan Marian Shrine near
Shanghai on its Feast Day next Thursday. In fact, they are advised to stay
home. By contrast, the press is urging tourists to visit the local animal
preserve, the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, and the Golf Club.
Catholics will celebrate Mary, Help of Christians, in two days. She is
venerated at Our Lady of Sheshan Shrine. The church was built in the 19th
century, and has been blessed as the national shrine. It is perched on the top
of a green hill with rare trees some 40 kilometres southwest of Shanghai. An
astronomical observatory built by the Jesuits in the early 20th
century is located nearby. It was later taken over by the government.
decades, hundreds of thousands of Catholics, even during the darkest days of
persecution, came from all over China to pray to Mary, Queen of China. Devotion
to Mary has kept Christians united against the temptation of separation.
Against the pope
his Letter to Chinese Catholics of June 2007, Pope Benedict XVI established a
World Day of Prayer for the Church in China celebrated on the feast day of Our
Lady of Sheshan.
the occasion, the Holy Father wrote a special
prayer and asked every Catholic in the world to organise moments of
prayer to further the unity between underground and official Catholics and enhance
communion with the successor of Peter. Equally, he urged the faithful to call
on the Lord to give them strength to persevere in bearing Christian witness
despite suffering persecution.
in 2008 when it was time to celebrate the first World Day, Christians could no
longer freely reach Sheshan on 24 May. Only Shanghai residents were allowed to
visit the shrine. All other pilgrims were stopped even before they entered the
if the site was a potential terrorist target, the authorities deployed
plainclothes and uniformed police officers, installed metal detectors and CCTV
cameras, and banned people from stopping or having picnics at the shrine. All
this was done ostensibly for "security" reasons. In 2008, it was the upcoming
Beijing Olympics; in 2010, the Shanghai Expo; and in 2011, tensions over
unlawful ordinations. All in all, the authorities found many reasons, but they
all lead back to one, namely a desire to prevent a show of obedience by the
faithful towards the pope and a show of unity with the Chinese Church.
in previous years, only Catholics from the Diocese of Shanghai will be able to
visit the shrine on 24 May. "The political climate is oppressive. Political
tensions are running high," Fr Wang, a priest from Central China, told AsiaNews.
October, a change in leadership is expected in both party and state with Hu
Jintao and Wen Jiabao passing the torch to the fifth generation of Communist
leaders. However, various factions in the party are involved in a power
struggle just below the surface, especially between liberals and neo-Maoists.
year, Fr Wang noted, his and neighbouring dioceses will organise pilgrimages
only to local shrines. "Anyone who wanted to go to Sheshan went already in
early May, or will go afterwards; certainly not now and especially not on the
24th. What is more, many people, especially the young, cannot afford
the cost of a pilgrimage because of the economic crisis".
Diocese of Shanghai will be able to organise a pilgrimage from the small church
located half way up the hill and the basilica on the top. Mgr Ma Daqin, vicar
general, will celebrate the solemn Mass in the basilica. Despite his venerable
age, the diocese's 93-year-old bishop, Mgr Aloysius Jin Luxian, has already
celebrated Mass on 1 and 14 May, opening the month-long Marian celebrations.
Shanghai Catholics, week-ends in May are a good time to visit the shrine," Fr
Wang explained. "The 24th is however a workday and it is impossible
to take a day off. As for Catholics from other parts of China, they are strongly
discouraged to visit Sheshan in May. A few are able however to sneak in."
The China Daily and Sheshan tourism
issues" and "political tensions" are not concerns found in the China Daily, the Communist party
English-language mouthpiece. In recent days, it has published a series of
articles on tourism in Sheshan, inviting its readers to visit the hill to see protected
animals like the pangolin and racoon dogs as well as rare birds.
another article, the paper focused on the Sheshan astronomical observatory,
which should get a 65m radio telescope by the end of the year, capable of detecting
voices and messages from as far as the Milky Way.
a number of articles were published praising the local cuisine and the city's
heavenly golf courses. Our Lady and pilgrims got no coverage.
Mao's reign, reciting the 'Salve Regina' was banned. The Communist could not
accept to hear the earth defined as a 'vale of tears'.
Chinese Catholic woman told me that one time a Red Guard told her in a
threatening manner that "China under Chairman Mao is like heaven; how can you
call it a 'vale of tears'?"
have changed. China has become a "haven for the rich", but weeping in the 'vale
of tears' is still banned, especially if the Sheshan Golf Club is not far away
from Our Lady.