05/11/2012, 00.00
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World Day of Prayer for the Church in China: Mission and baptisms in the city of Prato

Fr. Francis Wang, chaplain of the Chinese community in Prato, speaks to AsiaNews about value of mission and promoting integration in a foreign land. The day of prayer for the Church in China was attended by over 400 faithful from 300 Italian cities. During Mass Mgr. Savio Hon baptised five adults. A special prayer for Christians in China and the appeal to the bishops for communion with the Pope

Prato (AsiaNews) - On May 5 and 6 last, in Prato, home to the largest Chinese community in Italy, the World Day of Prayer for China was celebrated. Convoked by Pope Benedict XVI the Day is usually celebrated on May 24 - coinciding with the feast of Mary Help of Christians, venerated at the National Shrine of Sheshan, about 40 km southwest of Shanghai.

The aim of the Day is to call on Christian worldwide to pray and show "solidarity and concern" for the "past and present sufferings" of Chinese Catholics to help strengthen the unity among themselves and with the successor of Peter. The organizers of the Day here in Italy wanted to add another goal: that of missionary activity for their countrymen. AsiaNews asked Fr. Francis Wang, chaplain of the Chinese community in Prato, for a summary of the events of the Day.

What were the most important moments of the two days? And how many Chinese people in Italy were involved?

To respond to the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI, in his letter to the Chinese faithful in 2007, in Italy every year we celebrate this Day of Prayer for the Church in China. The fifth meeting was held in Prato. It was attended by more than 400 Chinese believers. More than 300 came from different cities of Italy: Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna, Milan, Rimini, Padua and Treviso.

This is the only opportunity to bring all Chinese Catholics living in Italy together. An important moment of this meeting was on Saturday afternoon. A group of fifty Chinese faithful, after receiving the mandate from the Bishop of Prato, visited the area that is home to the largest concentration of Chinese in the city, distributing material which illustrated some aspects of Christianity.

All the others, divided into 13 groups in the parish of Ascension - which houses the Chinese Community - discussed the theme of the spiritual and numerical growth of the various communities and how to promote integration within each community context.

The highlight of the day was the celebration of Mass, presided by Msgr. Savio Hon Taifai, Secretary of Propaganda Fide, with the administration of baptism to 5 adult Chinese who live in Prato. The day ended, after a communal dinner, with a time of celebration.

On Sunday we were all in the cathedral of Prato for the exposition of the Sacred Girdle. After Mass, presided by Msgr Simone Gastone, there was a procession through the city center, from the Chinese quarter up to the parish of the Ascension.

You have stressed that the two days also aimed to encourage mission towards the Chinese in Italy. Did you succeed in this and  how?

The meeting in Prato was certainly a good witness to the Chinese population living in the city, and stimulated participants to engage through witness of the good life and the individual approach to bringing the Christian message to their compatriots living in areas where Chinese Catholics themselves live. The Archbishop Chinese suggested the style of our behavior in these words: read the Bible, receive the sacraments, observe the commandments and spread the gospel. The Bishop of Prato also invited us to be, like the Chinese Catholics, a good example of integration for our compatriots living in Italy.

How is your mission in Prato, with the majority of Chinese  absorbed by their work?

It is certainly difficult to approach the Chinese in Prato, because they all are absorbed by their work. It is difficult to find appropriate times to approach them.

Are there any results? For example, baptisms?
Despite this difficulty, in the last 4 years we have had thirty Baptisms. Currently there are 12 Chinese catechumens preparing for baptism.

Are there many Chinese in Prato? Are you able to contact them all?
No one knows the exact number of Chinese living in Prato. Surely more than 30 thousand, although in the past 2 years a good number of Chinese, because of the economic crisis, have returned home.

The World Day of Prayer has the purpose of praying for the unity of the Church in China and its unity with the Successor of Peter. What is your opinion of the current situation of the Church in China?

We sincerely pray for Chinese Christians who have difficulties in living their faith, especially for the Chinese bishops so that they can fruitfully lead the Chinese Church, in union with the Holy Father and the universal Church.
I would use this opportunity to express my gratitude and that of the Chinese Catholic s to the Bishop of Prato, Msgr. Simoni Gastone, and the diocese of Prato, which through its Episcopal vicar for immigrants, Msgr. Santino Brunetti, follows and supports our community. A heartfelt thanks to Don Paul Baldanzi, pastor of Ascension Parish in Pino where our community is located.


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