05/21/2004, 00.00
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Catholic and Protestant pilgrims make way to Marian shrine in Fujian

Fuzhou (AsiaNew/Ucan) - A Marian shrine in Fujian province has attracted a large number of Protestants as well as Catholics this May.

Sister Zheng Wenying of Fuzhou estimates that at least 1,000 Protestants from Fujian and neighboring provinces had visited Rosary Hill Village by the middle of the month that Catholics traditionally devote to Mary. Most came in groups ranging from dozens to a hundred, led by Protestant pastors.

Sister Zheng told that nuns of the diocese explained Catholic teachings about the Blessed Mother to some visiting Protestant groups.

Some members of these groups agreed that revering both Jesus and his mother would make their Christian faith more complete, she said, adding that "some even knelt and prayed in the church."

The local Catholic Church rarely had contacts with Protestants before the completion of Rosary Hill Village in 2001, the nun recalled. Then curious Protestants started to visit. "They began to come in groups last year. This year there are more groups coming," Sister Zheng said.

The shrine straddles a hilltop in Longtian village, Changle, near the provincial capital of Fuzhou, 3,110 kilometers southeast of Beijing. The sprawling complex, run by the government-approved "open" Church of Fuzhou diocese, contains Our Lady of Rosary Church, a pavilion housing a statue of Mary, gardens, a convent, a library, a home for the elderly and a guesthouse. It also features statues depicting the Way of the Cross, carvings depicting the mysteries of the rosary.

Bishop Joseph Zheng Changcheng of Fuzhou, 92, began construction in 1993 and the whole project was completed with the official opening of Our Lady of Rosary Church in May 2001. Visible from miles away, the shrine has become a landmark in Changle and has attracted Catholic and other visitors every year.

According to Sister Zheng, the Changle government has been promoting the shrine in an attempt to increase tourism. Many Protestants in the province came to know of the shrine through such publicity or their pastors.

"Some Protestants pastors invited us to explain to their faithful the meaning of the Way of the Cross and the Catholic teachings of the Blessed Mother. They said they would organize groups to come in the future," she said.

Sometimes the religious fervor they display is more intense than that of some Catholics, the nun observed.

Among tens of thousands of Catholics who came for pilgrimages the first half of May were a number from the "underground" Church community, which has a stronghold in Fuzhou diocese.

A priest from this community told UCA News in early May that he would enter the Rosary Hill church to pray but would not attend or say Mass there.

Sister Zheng observed that some underground Catholics attend Mass in the church but leave when it is time for Communion.

"We hope the shrine will become a symbol of communion not only among Catholics of both the open and underground communities, but also between Catholics and Protestants," she said.



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