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China marks Day of Prayer at Sheshan

SHANGHAI (AsiaNews): Thousands of people descended on the Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan on the outskirts of Shanghai on May 24, the feast day of Our Lady Help of Christians, which is also regarded as the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan.

While the shrine has always been a popular place for pilgrimage, it has taken on a new significance since Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the day as the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China in 2007.

The diocese of Shanghai reported that the lists of people who registered to visit Sheshan during the month of May run to at least 20,000. However, there are others praying throughout China and organising their own forms of pilgrimage within their own communities.

Pope Benedict proclaimed the Day of Prayer in a letter penned to Chinese Catholics and since then the day has taken on a new significance for the Church in China.

Pope Benedict called on Chinese Catholics to join him in prayer to strengthen their unity and love, but most especially to pray for their persecutors and for the grace to persevere during difficult times in witnessing to the message of their saviour.

He told the world that it was also an opportunity for the Church in China to receive fraternal solidarity and solicitude from the wider Church, as well as persevere in bearing witness.

Over the years, Chinese police have closely monitored the shrine out of fear that the crowd may get out of hand or become too conspicuous. In fact, only the diocese of Shanghai is permitted to organise pilgrimages for people registered in the city and only for the day of the feast itself, May 24.

Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the diocese noted that some 20,000 people had registered and, in addition, groups from other dioceses, like Ningbo and Taiyuan, with numbers ranging from a few dozens to 2,000, had put their names down for a visit during May.

Aerial pictures taken of crowds milling around the Sheshan basilica and shrine have been widely circulated among online chat groups.

This year, web groups were also organised to pray to the Blessed Mother for protection of the Church in China and for the healing for the sick.

One person said, “Our lives are like a pilgrimage and will encounter difficulties. When I am downcast, I pray to Our Lady and offer my suffering to her and ask her for help.”

Another person, who only gave the name of Fang, said that he was praying that the Church in China will always be united with Christ. Another said he was praying for the Church to live in communion with the universal Church.

Still another said that he was praying for health and peace among the pope and all the priests of the Church. And a student said that she was praying for vocations in the Church, as well as to get into a famous university next year.

The diocese of Shanghai led a solemn pilgrimage on May 11 with the participation of the laity, sisters, priests and seminarians. No bishop was present.

Since the death of Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, the official bishop of Shanghai, and the unofficial Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, the only bishop in the diocese has been Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has remained under house arrest since 2012.

The pilgrimage itself entails a procession with stops at three chapels dedicated to the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, before it reaches the shrine, which is perched on top of a hill.

Father Lu Qinglin, the head of the Punan deanery, led the first prayer, encouraging people to seek the help of the Blessed Mother and pray to St. Joseph to protect the Church in China, especially the diocese of Shanghai. He was followed by Father Song Jianli, the head of the Pudong deanery.

The Mass at the Basilica of Sheshan on the hilltop was celebrated by Father Wu Jianlin, the head of the Shanghai deanery. 

About 50 local and foreign priests concelebrated and entrusted the protection of the Church in Shanghai and in China to Our Lady.

They also prayed for unity and communion with the universal Church.

Father Wang Zhengping, the head of the Chongming deanery, said in his homily that offering something to God means offering ourselves totally to the Church, , becoming tools of world peace and Church unity.

Father Wu led the Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan, written by Pope Benedict, asking the Blessed Mother to protect Shanghai, the Church in China and across Asia.

On May 22, Pope Francis reminded people of the upcoming World Day of Prayer and urged them to ask Mary “to give to his children in China the ability to discern at all times the signs of the loving presence of God that always welcomes and forgives.”

He also expressed his hope that Chinese Catholics “together with those who follow other noble religious traditions, may become concrete signs of charity and reconciliation. This way, they will promote an authentic culture of encounter and the harmony of all society.”

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