A shortage of churches has prompted Bishop Paul Xie Tingzhe of Urumqi from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region to urge his faithful to build shrines for the whole family to pray at home.
The appeal in a pastoral letter to revive the “good practice,” which has been an age-old tradition in the Church, was posted on his blog on March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph.
The prelate “commands as well as pleads with” all Xinjiang faithful who have two Catholics or more in their family to pray at least one decade of the Rosary together every day.
“By doing so, every family will become a sanctuary and every member in the family will be more holy. The family bond will be more solid and harmonious,” said the bishop who is not recognized by the government.
Bishop Xie said he wrote his Lent pastoral letter to encourage Catholics to pray more, since he believes three simple ways to evangelize are: prayers, living out the Words of God and doing charitable works.
A family sanctuary is needed because there are only 18 churches in Xinjiang and the government does not allow Catholics from several families to get together in private prayer, he said.
In his letter, he also reminds his 26 priests to make frequent visits to each Catholic family in the diocese.
Urumqi has 2,000 Catholic families with 10,000 faithful and around 90 catechumen are baptized each year there at Easter, Christmas and Assumption Day on August 15.
“The practice of family prayer was more common among Catholics several generations ago but is less popular among the newly baptized or younger faithful,” said Fang Xuejun, a 43-year-old Church worker at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Urqumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang.
He agreed that Catholics who have a prayer room at home would probably be more fervent in their evangelization, “probably because it will serve as a reminder to serve God’s mission.”