05/23/2019, 16.51
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Bitter-sweet prayers by Chinese Christians for Our Lady at Sheshan

Ahead of tomorrow’s feast day of Mary Help of Christians, to whom the shrine of Sheshan near Shanghai is dedicated, some faithful and priests make a supplication and express their concerns amid the destruction of crosses and the arrests of priests. Many feel bitter over the scant results from the Sino-Vatican agreement.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Several prayers and brief reflections reached to AsiaNews ahead of tomorrow ‘s feast day of Mary Help of Christians. The latter is celebrated in China at the national shrine of Sheshan, which is located on a hill near Shanghai. In them, believers place their trust in Mary’s hands, appeal for support against persecution and hardships (such as the destruction of crosses and churches and the imprisonment of priests), and voice their bitterness over the limited results of last September’s Sino-Vatican agreement.

At the end of yesterday’s general audience, Pope Francis mentioned the feast, expressing his "special closeness and affection" for Chinese Catholics, asking them to remain "united in the communion of the universal Church" amid “daily trials and tribulations”.

Following his Letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI established a World Day of Prayer for the Church in China to be celebrated on 24 May to ask Our Lady for strength against persecution, unity among Catholic communities, and commitment to the good of Chinese society. For the occasion, he also wrote a special prayer.

Since 2008, the Shanghai Religious Affairs Office and the local Patriotic Association have placed many obstacles before Chinese Catholics who want to make the pilgrimage to Sheshan, a site that attracts believers from both the underground and official Church, united in the same faith and devotion.

This year there are no particular difficulties, but – as one of the priests cited below notes – there are fewer pilgrims than usual. The website of the Diocese of Shanghai lists the various groups that have booked for the pilgrimage and a Mass at the shrine, from late April to late May. In all, there are thousands of them, mainly from Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu.

Every time the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary ‘Help of Christians’ comes, the heart is always filled with a sense of inexpressible bitterness. Pope Benedict XVI made the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan a World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, which provide great comfort to Chinese Catholics. By contrast, the signing of the Sino-Vatican agreement has not improved at all the real life of the faithful in China, despite the hopes Holy See officials had in this regard. Priests and believers in China must continue to pray before the altar of Our Lady, asking her to help us meet all the challenges and overcome all the difficulties.

Fr Peter

Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy,

venerated with the title of ‘Help of Christians’ at the Shrine of Sheshan,

You are the illustrious and great protection of the Church,

You are the holy help and blessing of the people of God,

your solemnity resembles a well-disciplined army,

that destroyed all the heretical sects of the world,

let us entrust the Church in China into your hands, so that your children can freely venerate the Lord of heaven and earth, Our Lord,

so that they can free themselves from all the chains that hamper freedom of worship,

at this time of darkness, before the coming of the first ray of light,

Please help and bless your children amid difficulties, struggles and pain,

Please protect us so that we may have victory over our enemies,

Please lead our souls to the Kingdom of Heaven after death, amen.

Blessed Virgin Mary ‘Help of Christians’ pray for us.

A lay believer

Since Pope Benedict XVI called on the Universal Church to pray for our Church in China, the Chinese Church, especially the Church loyal to Rome, has continued to face challenges and difficulties, such as the destruction of crosses. China’s Communist Party continues to persecute the underground Church. Numerous places of prayer and churches have been closed across the country, including our church, which was shut down before last Christmas. Our heart is still weeping at the thought of what happened that day. Is this the outcome of the Sino-Vatican agreement? Will the work of the old bishops like Fan Xueyan[i] be lost? Father Liu Honggeng is still in prison . . . We continue to hold onto the faith, despite hardships and suffering ...

A lay believer

Tomorrow, 24 May, will be the Day of Prayer of the Universal Church for the Church in China. For this occasion, Pope Benedict XVI prepared a special prayer (to Our Lady of Sheshan). Pope Francis again appealed to the universal Church, calling for prayers for the Church in China on the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians. In the Chinese Church, especially in Sheshan, the number of faithful making the pilgrimage from across the country seems to be down. Now, after more than half of the month dedicated to Our Lady of Sheshan has passed, crowds of believers have not come to the shrine, the prosperity of the past is no more. It is certainly not that the faithful no longer venerate Our Lady, or that the will to make the pilgrimage is weaker, but rather that the current situation does not encourage the faithful to freely express their faith, despite the presence of the Holy See at the International Horticultural Exhibition 2019 in Beijing, and the visit of the two Chinese bishops to Milan.

Fr Paul

[i] Mgr Joseph Fan Xueyan (1907-1992), underground bishop of Baoding (Hebei), died from torture police custody (see AsiaNews, “Bishop Fan's ghost in Bishop Jia's arrest,” 16 April 2004).

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