05/24/2018, 09.32
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Christians of China and of the world 'spiritually united' by Our Lady of Sheshan

by Bernardo Cervellera

At the general audience yesterday, Pope Francis asked for prayers for the Church in China on the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan. And he cited the "difficulties" in which the faithful live. The persecution does not overwhelm only Catholics, but also Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists. Defending religious freedom also serves the economy. The forecasts of sociologists: by 2030, China will be home to the world’s highest number of Christians.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis’ appeal yesterday to be "spiritually united to all the Catholic faithful living in China", on the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan, has sparked no small amount of amazement. Today the feast of the Virgin is celebrated in a sanctuary bearing her name that lies on the hills near Shanghai, an incessant destination for pilgrimages.

Pope Francis does not often speak about China and Christians. Since the Holy See engaged in dialogue with the Chinese government, there have been no appeals or denunciations, perhaps not to annoy the other party. On the other hand, the Pope often expressed his appreciation of the Middle Kingdom as well as his love for Chinese culture and China.

Yesterday, however, at the end of his general audience, the pontiff also mentioned "the difficulties" in which our brothers and sisters of China are immersed. And there are many.  As China and the Holy See are struggle to find agreement on episcopal appointments, bishops are being prevented from carrying out their ministry. Since 2012, the same bishop of Shanghai, Taddeo Ma Daqin, has been kept in forced isolation and relegated by the Patriotic Association to the role of a simple priest.

The new regulations on religious activities, launched in February, have strengthened a Maoist style of local authorities that prohibit young people under 18 from participating in any religious event, driving them away from churches. In the name of "sinicization", of rendering the faith "Chinese", bell towers are destroyed, crosses are torn down, Christian decorations are defiled. In the name of "stability" police checks are carried out - with police dogs - in parish offices, during celebrations, in search of who knows what "criminals".

Some, perhaps in an attempt to appear an ally of the Chinese government, downplay all of this as episodic events, only to be found in certain regions, or linked to a particular religious group.  But the reality is that, the icy Maoist wind is affecting many regions: Zhejiang, Henan, Xinjiang, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, ... and it is not only against Catholics or against Protestants, but against all religions, just as in China, even among the young people, there is the search for religious values ​​and new ideals more true than the banal and consumerist materialism that society and the Party offer.

The Pope asks to be "spiritually united" to the faithful in China to all the Catholics of the world. But this spiritual unity must also be asked of Muslims in the world, who see their brothers in Xinjiang humiliated and persecuted, under the guise of "terrorism". And also of the Buddhists, who see their temples transformed into noisy tourist attractions and robbed of their silence.

And I think that the businesspeople who trade with China should be "spiritually united". History shows us that what first happened to Catholics and faith of other religions then happened to everyone in the country: this is demonstrated by what happened with the takeover of Mao in 1949; with the Cultural Revolution in 1966; we see it today where entrepreneurs, lawyers, publishers are kidnapped, condemned behind closed doors, forced to make video "confessions". The defence of religious freedom serves to safeguard all human rights in society.

Addressing the "Lord’s disciples in China", the Pope said: "Our Lady will never fail to help you and will guard you with her motherly love". This help is effective: on meeting Chinese Catholics one cannot help but be impressed by their being so full of faith, capable of taking risks, by their commitment to improving society with cooperatives, helping orphans, migrants, families. Perhaps the sociologist Fenggang Yang is right: by 2030, China will be the country with the highest number of Christians in the world.

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