Prayers are being said around the globe today for the Church in China, but the Chinese government is reacting by restricting access to the Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan and canceling the celebration of Mass.
May 24 marks the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, a day specially set aside by Pope Benedict XVI for remembering the plight of Chinese Catholics.
"For us, for our community, I can say the Pope is like a father who loves his children,” said Father Pietro Cui, the priest in charge of the Pastoral Care of Chinese Catholics in Italy.
“The Holy Father made a special appeal for the people of China and we must thank him for that because it’s very important, also that the world may know that this day is important for all Catholics,” he told CNA May 24.
The day has particular significance for Chinese Catholics as it occasion when many traditionally make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai. Various media reports, though, suggest that the Chinese government set up security checkpoints around the shrine to prevent pilgrims from visiting - a fact confirmed by Fr. Cui.
“The sanctuary of Our Lady of Sheshan is very important to us. She is our Madonna, the Madonna of China. I've heard that pilgrims are not very free to go to Sheshan. I've heard of problems today, though.” Those problems also seem to exist in other parts of China too.
Fr. Cui said that in the north of China Catholics are “not very free to celebrate Mass.” Although he described the restrictions on the Church as “normal” for locals, Fr. Cui said that he spoke with some families on the phone who said that today “there is no Holy Mass because the government says they can’t.”
At present, the Chinese government only allows the state-controlled “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” to operate freely within the country. The Association does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope. It’s estimated there are some 6 million such Catholics in China although millions more are worshiping outside the official church.
Hence the call of the Pope for prayer as explained today by his spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J.
“The Pope’s latest appeal to all the faithful for the Day of Prayer for the Church in China, on May 24th, should be understood for what it is meant to be: that is, above all, an appeal for prayer. The Pope believes in the power of prayer and invites us to be ‘confident that, through prayer we can do something very real’ for the Church in China.”