China Aid Association
The call for participation is addressed above all to the contemplative monasteries. A “pilgrimage of prayer” to the Marian shrine of Sheshan, where the government prohibits the arrival of pilgrims from all over China. To celebrate the day of prayer, the Chinese Catholics in Italy will gather on May 24 at Saint Mary Major (Rome).
(Vatican City (AsiaNews) – May 16, 2008) Cardinal Ivan Dias, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, has sent a letter to the contemplative monasteries for women, to “remind” them of the pope’s invitation to celebrate May 24 as a Day of Prayer for the Church in China.
In the letter, the prefect of the Propaganda Fide affirms that “this day . . . will be a good opportunity for an in-depth study of the pope’s letter, so as to understand better the situation of the Church in China and its most significant aspects. This will allow us to increase communion with the local Church there, and to nourish it with constant prayer and through initiatives of various kinds”.
The idea for a Day of Prayer to be celebrated each year on May 24 was issued by Benedict XVI in his Letter to Chinese Catholics last year. On that day, Chinese Catholics celebrate the liturgical feast of Mary Help of Christians, venerated at the shrine of Sheshuan, near Shanghai (see photo).
In the Letter, the pope asks Chinese Catholics to mark the day “by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible” (no. 19). The pontiff suggests to the Catholics, who are often persecuted, to “love [your] enemies and to pray for those who persecute [you]”.
Benedict XVI also asks all Catholics in the world to unite in prayer on that day, to witness to “their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you [the Catholics of China], asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure”. In these days, this “failure” is very real. Every year, the official and underground Catholics organise pilgrimages all over the country for Sheshan, a national Marian shrine. This year, precisely in connection with the pope’s call for the Chinese Church to be unified in itself and with him, the government authorities of Shanghai prohibited the dioceses from organizing pilgrimages to Sheshan for the entire month of May, and have banned hotels and restaurants from offering hospitality to pilgrims.
The government’s orders seem to have been motivated by fear of gatherings that might get out of control, at a time characterized by tensions following the earthquake and the repression in Tibet, and by China’s desire to present an image of harmony to the world ahead of the Olympics. But there are some who interpret it as an attempt to boycott the pope’s appeal.
Fr Ciro Biondi, secretary of the PUM (Pontifical Missionary Union), in a message that accompanies the letter from Cardinal Dias, reminds the contemplative nuns of the tradition of devotion to Sheshan, and asks them to make a “pilgrimage of prayer”, uniting themselves with the pope and the Chinese people, to “ask for peace for that nation, which is living through a period of tremendous international tension”.
In Italy, many dioceses are preparing to celebrate the occasion with pilgrimages and prayers. Among these, mention must be made of the gesture proposed by the Chinese Catholics in Italy. For the first time, they have invited the office for migrants of the Italian bishops’ conference to participate in the Mass (in Italian and Chinese) that will be held on May 24 at 11:30 a.m. in the basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. A meeting is scheduled for the afternoon, at the UniversitÃ Urbaniana, together with participation the following day at the papal Angelus in Saint Peter’s Square.
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