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CICM pilgrimage to China wraps up

HONG KONG (UCAN): A delegation from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Missionhurst or CICM) wrapped up its June 2 to 8 pilgrimage to China last week. The visit aimed to cement ties with Chinese bishops and dioceses in honour of the 150th death anniversary of the congregation’s Belgian founder, Theofiel Verbist.
 
The group, led by CICM superior general, Father Charles Phukuta, included the superior general of the Congregation of the Brothers of Charity, Brother René Stockman; Claretian superior general, Mathew Vattamattan; and CICM vicar general, Ador Castillo.
 
They were greeted in China by the three leading figures of the Chinese Bishops Conference: Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, Bishop Joseph Shen Bin and Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai.
 
The delegation toured four Missionhurst dioceses in northern China and delivered century-old religious relics to members of the local clergy as they also feted 35 years of cooperation between the Verbiest Foundation and the Chinese Bishops Conference.
 
There has been a tightening of government control over religious affairs in recent years and actions by authorities to censor the biggest Catholic media outlet in the country, Faith Weekly, from reporting on any pilgrimages made across the country in May this year, sparked an outcry.
 
Despite the clampdown, the delegation was reportedly unhindered during its trip which was capped with an honorary event at the Embassy of Belgium in Beijing, where the ambassador, Marc Vinck, bestowed the Commander of the Order of the Crown on the foundation’s founder, Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, at the request of King Philip of Belgium, in recognition of his efforts to nurture friendly ties between the two countries since the early 1980s.
 
During the pilgrimage, part of which Vinck joined, the priests celebrated a Sunday Mass at Nantang Cathedral, prayed with local congregations in each diocese, visited the city of Laohugou in Hebei where Verbist passed and spread some of the key messages he espoused.
 
These included the mottoes: “For the one who loves, nothing is difficult” and “We must remain united One Heart One Soul.”
 
Father Phukata vowed to continue the mission’s “family relationship” with China and invited Chinese Christians to study CICM’s spiritual messages.
 
The foundation is named after Verbist, the Jesuit astronomer who established the Missionhurst congregation in 1862 after conceiving an initial plan in 1860 to assemble Belgian secular priests to travel to China to set up an orphanage there.
 
In 1865, he travelled to Inner Mongolia via Hong Kong with four other priests. He worked at the Chinese imperial court and devoted time to helping impoverished and orphaned children, but died of typhus in Hebei province in 1868 while in his mid-60s. 
 
The CICM is now active in China, Mongolia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa.
 
Media reports claim that 250 of the 679 Missionhurst missionaries who worked in the China from 1865 died and are buried there.

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