In Sheshan, World Day of Prayer for the Church in China
Sheshsan (AsiaNews) - At least 2500 people have taken part in the pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Sheshan, on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China called for by Benedict XVI. Because of obstacles posed by the local government, only members of the diocese of Shanghai were allowed to participate in the pilgrimage, although Catholics of other diocese were also present, not only from the official Church, but also from the underground (unauthorised) Church.
"In devotion to Mary and at the pope's invitation, we all came together to meet here", said one of the faithful.
The pilgrimage unfolded over a number of stages. Early in the morning, 7,000 faithful reached the foot of the hill where the shrine stands, and at 8:00 a.m. they began the ascent, amid the sounds of bells and of the seminarians' band. Led by Joseph Xing Wenzhi, auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, the priests, sisters, and faithful stopped at three stations, where there are statues of the Mother of God, St. Joseph, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
At each of the stations, Bishop Xing emphasised the value of this day, in which "we discover that Mary protects the Church of China as she once protected her Son Jesus".
The bishop then blessed a copy of the statue of the Virgin of Sheshan, which was placed beneath a canopy and carried by young people into the shrine interior.
"This pilgrimage", said one of the faithful, "is like a symbol of the life of the Church in China: the Virgin, the bishop, the Christians who journey among so many curves and dark moments, amid trees and bamboo forests". During the procession, the faithful sang and prayed the rosary.
Inside the basilica, which was already full of people, Fr Gao Chaopeng, a teacher at the nearby seminary, gave a homily. He brought to light the concern and love of the pope and of all Christians in the world for the Chinese Church. "We are not orphans", he said, "but members of the family of the universal Church . . . We must offer to the Virgin of Sheshan all of the difficulties of the Church in China". He also invited the faithful to pray for the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan.
At the end, the faithful recited together the prayer written by the pope, printed by the diocese.
At about 10:00 a.m., Bishop Xing celebrated the Mass, in the presence of Bishop Jin Luxian. About 100 priests concelebrated. At the end of the Mass, everyone again recited the prayer to the Virgin of Sheshan composed by the pontiff.
"May 24, 2008", said one underground Catholic, "has a special value for the Chinese Church. As we celebrate the feast of Mary Help of Christians, we also renew our communion with the universal Church and our fidelity to the Holy Father".