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World Heritage bid for St. Francis Xavier memorial

HONG KONG (UCAN): People visiting the original grave site of St. Francis Xavier on Shangchuan Island in China on December 3 found site closed for renovation.

It is part of a bid for a UNESCO World Heritage listing.

St. Francis Xavier’s Church on the island, which houses the empty tomb of the 16th century Jesuit missionary, is one of 30 historic sites included in the Chinese government recommendations for UNESCO world heritage listing for 2018.

St. Francis died at age 46 on Shangchuan Island on 3 December 1552, while waiting to enter mainland China. 

He was buried there for two months before his body was exhumed and transferred first to Malacca and then to Goa, India, its current resting place.

The present church, built in 1986, is a reproduction of the chapel built in 1869. Church groups outside mainland China provided funding for its reconstruction, which is under the jurisdiction of Jiangmen diocese.

“I was notified by the Religious Affairs Bureau a few months ago that the renovation project would be started on November 12,” Bishop Paul Liang Jiansen, from Jiangmen, said.

“The guards at the graveyard have returned home and the site is closed. It will be dangerous now to go there for a pilgrimage, as construction work is going on,” he explained.

The bishop is delighted that the church may become a world heritage site, as it will spread knowledge of the missionary’s work. 

“Besides attracting more pilgrims, it will benefit our evangelisation efforts if more tourists visit the island,” Bishop Leung said.

He Shaoqun, one of the guards at the sanctuary, said visits to the site have been sporadic.

“Sometimes no one comes at all through the week, while at other times there are several tourist groups made up of a few dozen people. They are mostly Catholic, especially when approaching the saint’s feast day,” He explained.

The renovation work is covering the cemetery, the chapel and the guards’ dormitory. “It is estimated to be finished next July,” she said.

Shangchuan Island is 14 kilometres off the coast of southern Guangdong province.

St. Francis Xavier was canonised in 1622, along with his mentor, St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was among the 10 founding-members of the Society of Jesus.

Pope Pius X declared him one of the patron saints of all foreign missions.

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