Pope: 'May the Gospel be fully and freely proclaimed in China'.
Francis calls for closeness to Chinese Christians on the Day the Church celebrates the feast of Mary Help of Christians venerated at the Sheshan shrine. A special thought "for the pastors and faithful who suffer": may they find "consolation and encouragement in the communion and solidarity of the universal Church".
Vatican City (Rome) - "May the good news of Christ crucified and risen be proclaimed in its fullness, beauty and freedom, bearing fruit for the good of the Catholic Church and all of Chinese society".
This was Pope Francis prayer shared with all the faithful at the end of Wednesday's general audience in St Peter's Square on today's World Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China, celebrated on the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians, venerated in the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai.
"On this occasion," the pontiff said, "I wish to assure the memory and express closeness to our brothers and sisters in China, sharing their joys and hopes". But the pope also specifically mentioned those in China who experience suffering because of their faith.
"A special thought," he added, "is addressed to all those who suffer, pastors and faithful, so that in the communion and solidarity of the universal Church they may experience consolation and encouragement.
The World Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China has been celebrated for fifteen years at the behest of Benedict XVI, who instituted it with his 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics. This year falls in a particularly delicate phase of relations between the Holy See and Beijing.
After the second renewal of the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops, which took place in October 2022, there have been two obvious forcings on the part of the People's Republic of China: in November, the Vatican had denounced the violation of the agreement by the Chinese authorities with the appointment of Msgr. John Peng Weizhao as auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Jiangxi.
Then, in April, there was the installation in Shanghai of Bishop Shen Bin, unilaterally transferred from the See of Haimen by the Council of Chinese Bishops (not recognised by the Holy See and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party). It is since 8 September 2021 - twenty months ago now - that no episcopal appointment agreed with Rome has taken place in the Church in China, despite the fact that one third of Chinese dioceses are now vacant.
In this sense, it is significant that Pope Francis, speaking of the proclamation of the Gospel in China, also used the term 'freedom' and recalled that there are also 'pastors and faithful who suffer' in the Catholic community.
Among them - as we recalled a few days ago - there is, for example, the vicar of the Xuanhua diocese in Hebei Msgr. Simone Zhang Jianlin who has been under arrest for two years in the same diocese where the underground bishop Augustine Cui Tai has been periodically subjected to detention measures for 16 years.
After the pandemic in this month of May, the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan could again be celebrated with pilgrimages in China this year. Archbishop Shen Bin presided last week over that of the archdiocese of Shanghai during which he recited the prayer composed by Benedict XVI in 2008 on the occasion of the first World Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China.
Pope Francis himself keeps an image of Our Lady of Sheshan in his room at Casa Santa Marta, as he showed it to Card. Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, during a private audience granted to him at the Vatican last January.