Shanghai (AsiaNews) - Among the difficulties and arrests, Chinese Catholics are preparing to celebrate tomorrow's World Day of Prayer for China, established by Benedict XVI in his 2007 letter to the faithful in China. The day coincides with the feast of Mary Help of Christians, venerated at the National Shrine of Sheshan, about 40 km southwest of Shanghai.
In the past, on May 24th tens of thousands of official and underground Catholics made pilgrimages to the shrine, in a common gesture of prayer and reconciliation. Since 2008, the date of the first Day launched by the pope, the government has constantly placed obstacles to the faithful’s participation, blocking underground Catholics, limiting the influx from other dioceses and only allowing groups of faithful from Shanghai access to the shrine.
AsiaNews sources confirm that this year "security in Sheshan is very tight, with police and checkpoints with video cameras placed everywhere." One priest, however, confirmed that tomorrow Mgr. Xing Wenzhi, auxiliary bishop of Shanghai will go to the shrine to celebrate a mass. The ordinary of the diocese, Mgr. Aloysius Jin Luxian, 95, will not participate, having already presided at mass at the shrine on 1 and 11 May last.
Sources in the underground community in Shanghai yesterday told AsiaNews that their priests have been "taken away by police for a tour at government expense" to prevent them from making the pilgrimage to Sheshan, as they had planned. Yesterday none of the city's underground community was able to celebrate mass because of the absence of their priests.
Sometimes, some communities are able to circumvent controls. A young priest said that in 2010 public security tried to stop them, but he and his group managed to get to Sheshan. "We arrived at Sheshan on May 24 with much sadness and difficulty, but we were happy to offer our prayers to Our Lady on this special day."
It also reported arrests among the priests of the underground community of North China. Some of them had prepared hundreds of copies of the prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan, distributing them to the faithful.
Benedict XVI, in his letter, asks for prayers to show "solidarity and concern" for the "past and present sufferings" of Chinese Catholics. Various underground communities pray for their bishops who disappeared in police custody decades ago, and whose fate is unknown. Among them we recall Mgr. James Su Zhimin (diocese of Baoding, Hebei), 77, was arrested and disappeared in 1996 and Mgr. Cosma Shi Enxiang (diocese of Yixian, Hebei), 88, arrested and disappeared in the hands of police April 13, 2001.
Catholics in Zhengding want to pray especially for their bishop, Mgr. Julius Jia Zhiguo, who has been in hospital in Shijiazhuang since May 18 with heart problems. Even in hospital, the bishop is under police surveillance.
In Luoyang (Henan), underground Catholics are praying for their Bishop. Li Hongye, who died last April 23 after spending ten years in hard labor. "The community is still mourning - said one priest - and we are very disappointed that the authorities have demolished the cross erected on the grave of our bishop."
Yesterday in Hohhot (Inner Mongolia), Mgr. Meng Qinglu reminded the faithful to offer prayers especially for those who do not go to church, to help revive their enthusiasm for the faith and for unity and communion with the universal Church.
In Taiyuan (Shanxi) communities, tomorrow will make a pilgrimage to the local shrines of Mount of the Seven Sorrows and Mount Guquan. Other communities have jointly prepared rosaries, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Eucharistic celebrations. Some communities have told AsiaNews that they know nothing about Benedict XVI’s latest appeal for prayer for China launched on May 18 and that they will not celebrate the Day of Prayer.
Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan:
Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians", the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection. We come before you today to implore your protection. Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.
When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth, you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption. You willingly and generously cooperated in that work, allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul, until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary, standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.
From that moment, you became, in a new way, the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross. Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter. Grant that your children may discern at all times, even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.
Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love. May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world, and of the world to Jesus. In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high, offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love. Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love, ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built. Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!