04/09/2008, 00.00
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The diocese of Hong Kong cancels pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan

It was supposed to take place on May 24, 2008, on the occasion of the first world day of prayer for China, initiated by Benedict XVI, in conjunction with the arrival of thousands of Chinese pilgrims at the Marian shrine. The government authorities fear security problems and lack of control.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The diocese of Hong Kong has decided to cancel the official pilgrimage scheduled for May 24, 2008, to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan (Shanghai), after pressure from the Chinese government concerning security problems.  Cardinal Zen has nonetheless left the faithful and priests free to go on pilgrimage individually.  Sources for AsiaNews in Hong Kong say that this conclusion "was very predictable", given China's fear over any kind of uncontrolled gathering.

In his letter to Chinese Catholics published last June 30, Benedict XVI set the date of May 24 for the celebration of a world day of prayer for China.  In the letter, he also recalls that May 24 is the feast of Mary Help of Christians, solemnly celebrated by many Chinese pilgrims at the Marian shrine of Sheshen, about 50 kilometres southwest of Shanghai.

To express its unity with the Church of China, since July of 2007 the diocese of Hong Kong had been planning the pilgrimage of about 1,000 faithful from the territory, accompanied by Cardinal Joseph Zen.  The Chinese authorities made it known that they were concerned about the presence of the Cardinal on that day.  Cardinal Zen, a native of Shanghai, is looked upon unfavourably by the Chinese government, because of his positions in favour of religious freedom in China and democracy in Hong Kong.  Since 1996, the year of his appointment as bishop, he has not been permitted to visit China as a bishop.

In order to address the pressure and concerns, Cardinal Zen declared that he would not visit Sheshan, and that the number of pilgrims from Hong Kong would be reduced by half.

According to a reconstruction created for Eglises d'Asie by the episcopal vicar of Hong Kong, Msgr. Dominic Chan Chi-min, in January of 2008 everything was ready for the pilgrimage of 500 faithful in the territory.  Various groups were to have gathered after travelling by different routes to meet together in Sheshan on May 24 for a Eucharistic celebration in Cantonese.

The diocese of Hong Kong had asked the diocese of Shanghai to schedule a convenient time for the Mass at the Marian shrine.  At the end of March, the diocese of Shanghai responded that the party responsible for the visit of the group from Hong Kong was the local government, which - for reasons of safety, given the large flow of pilgrims on that day - said that it would be happy to receive the pilgrims from Hong Kong, but on another day.

Cardinal Zen, understanding the resistance of the Chinese authorities, decided to cancel the official pilgrimage, while leaving the priests and laypeople free to go to Sheshan in an unofficial manner.

Msgr. Chan says that he "understands the situation of the diocese of Shanghai", and since Catholics are peaceful people, they wanted the pilgrimage to be conducted "in peace".

Sources for AsiaNews in Hong Kong affirm that allowing the Catholics of Hong Kong to meet together with their Chinese counterparts would have meant excessive submission to a papal initiative, and allowing the emphasis of the profound unity between the faithful in China and those outside of it.  Moreover, the presence of large crowds of foreigners (as the Catholics of Hong Kong are often considered) risks increasing security controls.  The tension that has grown this month with the problem of Tibet makes the Chinese authorities even more nervous and paranoid in the face of any crowd gathering.

Some groups of Catholics from Hong Kong plan to go on pilgrimage to Sheshan on May 26.

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