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Pray with young people in China

IN MAY EACH year, Catholics in China traditionally visit Marian shrines to pray. May 24 is the feast day of Our Lady, Help of Christians and in 2007, was also declared the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to the Catholics in China (papal letter) in 2007 and is an occasion for the universal Church to be “united in prayer with the Church which is in China” (papal letter, 19).
In recent years, there have been crackdowns on the Church including the removal of crosses, the demolition of a bishop’s tombstone, bishops still missing after having been detained and clergy of the unofficial Church being forced to register and the closing down of prayer places.
In the past months, in Henan and some other provinces, young people have been barred from churches and religious activities, summer camps, winter camps and faith training classes. Even Church-run kindergartens have been seized and children sent away by guards. All these point to the government tightening its grip on religious freedom.
The Church in China faces difficult times in which the formation of young faithful and religious personnel is threatened. Nowadays, teenagers in China encounter many challenges and need the pastoral care of the Church. Children are not only the hope of the Church, but also the future of society. 
At a pre-Synodal meeting in Rome in March, a young religious sister from northern China asked Pope Francis how young religious can balance the dominant culture in society and the spiritual life in order to combat a materialistic attitude. The pope responded that the development of the religious must be protected and there needs to be a dialogue with a life which does not pursue God and only is greedy for materialistic wealth. In this social context, young people who aspire to a religious life must know more how to discern the call.
Becoming a Catholic in China has gradually changed from collective baptism in rural areas in the past, to individual baptisms after catechism in today’s cities. The Church needs “to offer them a solid and thorough Christian formation” (papal letter, 16). This year, among the newly-baptised young people in China, some said that having experienced the search for faith, they understand that their faith identity may bring them trouble in employment or other problems, but they are still willing to spread the gospel. They are also aware that they are in a constrained religious situation and are faced with atheism as well as secular materialism that excludes God, but this only pushes them to deepen their understanding of God.
Many young people in China receive comfort and support from pastors and formators who guide, listen and accompany them. This further motivates them to give up their jobs and devote all their time in serving the Church. However, these pastoral ministries cannot always be offered due to a lack of resources.
We in Hong Kong, apart from praying for the Church in China, can enhance mutual understanding and support through exchanges with the Church in the mainland. Hopefully, China-Vatican dialogues of recent years may improve the situation and promote communion and unity with the Universal Church. 
May religious freedom always receive support and be respected in the divine land of China. Our Lady of Sheshan, please pray for the Church in China. Our Mother of Mercy, please pray for us. SE