Celebrations concluded for 400th anniversary of Church in Shanghai
Auxiliary bishop of China: with the end of the anniversary, our commitment continues. Celebrations marked by the "war" of local authorities and the Patriotic Association, to block the participation of 200,000 faithful in the pilgrimage on May 24 to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/UCAN) - The celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Catholicism in Shanghai have concluded with the ordination of two priests, on December 6 in the Cathedral of St. Ignatius in the district of Xujiahui, celebrated by the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Xing Wenzhi, together with 87 priests from the local and nearby dioceses. But the celebrations have been marked by the "war" of the authorities and the Patriotic Association (PA) against the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Sheshan.

About 2,000 Catholics participated in the Mass for the ordination of Frs. Li Gangyao and Joseph Xu Ruhao, both from the regional seminary of Sheshan just outside of Shanghai. Fr. Li will remain in the diocese of Shanghai, which now has 75 priests, while Fr. Xu is destined for the diocese of Anhui.

Bishop Xing encouraged the newly ordained priests to follow the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who "came not to be served but to serve, and to search for the lost." He recalled that, even with the end of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary, "our mission does not end today, but rather it marks a new impetus for us to spread the Gospel to those who have never heard of it."

The Catholic Church began in Shanghai in 1608 with Paul Xu Guangqi, the first Catholic of the city, converted by the Italian Jesuit Fr. Lazzaro Cattaneo. The priest remained there for two years, converting about 200 people and building the first church, near Xujiahui.

The celebrations for the anniversary, which began on March 1 and lasted for nine months, included among the main events the pilgrimage to the shrine of Sheshan. Paul Benedict XVI declared May 24 of each year as the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, and invited the faithful to address special prayers to Our Lady of Sheshan (in the photo), the focus of an old and popular pilgrimage on that date. The bishop of Shanghai, Aloysius Jin Luxian (who is now very sick), announced the celebration in a pastoral letter in December of 2007, calling upon all for spiritual renewal and an effective response to the pope's invitation.

The local government and the PA in the area permitted the pilgrimage only for priests and religious of the diocese of Shanghai, blocking the faithful of other dioceses. The intention was to prevent the forecast arrival, peaceful and celebratory, of 200,000 faithful: dozens of official or underground priests were arrested just before May 24, or put under tight surveillance, or forced to "take a trip" with the police, or simply threatened (see: Pope's prayer for Church in China banned in some dioceses, 05/31/2008). Some priests and laypeople were still in prison months later. It was made mandatory for every pilgrim going to Sheshan to register with the diocese of Shanghai. For the entire month of May, roadblocks were set up in the surrounding area, hotels and restaurants were prohibited to receive Catholic pilgrims, and closed-circuit cameras were set up on nearby roads.