Francis invited to be close to Chinese Christians on the day the Church celebrates the feast of Mary Help of Christians, venerated in the Sheshan sanctuary. A special thought “so that suffering pastors and faithful” may find “consolation and encouragement in the communion and solidarity of the universal Church.”
Vatican City (Rome) – “May the good news of the crucified and risen Christ be proclaimed in all its fullness, beauty and freedom, bearing fruit for the good of the Catholic Church and of all Chinese society.” With this invocation at the end of the general audience on Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis invited all the faithful to pray on the World Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China which is celebrated today on the feast of Mary Help of Christians, venerated in Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan, in Shanghai.
“On this occasion – said the pontiff – I would like to remember and express closeness to our brothers and sisters in China, sharing their joys and hopes.” But the Pope also expressly mentioned those who suffer in China because of their faith. “A special thought – he added – goes to all those who suffer, pastors and faithful, so that in the communion and solidarity of the universal Church they may experience consolation and encouragement.”
The World Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China has been celebrated for fifteen years by the will of Benedict XVI, who instituted it with his Letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007. This year coincides with a particularly delicate moment in relations between the Holy Headquarters and Beijing. After the second renewal of the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of bishops in October 2022, there were two obvious impositions by the People’s Republic of China: in November the Vatican had denounced the violation of the agreement by the Chinese authorities with the appointment of Mons John Peng Weizhao as Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Jiangxi. Later in April was the inauguration in Shanghai of Bishop Shen Bin, transferred by unilateral decision from the see of Haimen by the Council of Chinese Bishops (not recognized by the Holy See and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party). Since September 8, 2021 – twenty months ago – there has been no episcopal appointment agreed with Rome in the Church in China, despite the fact that a third of the Chinese dioceses are currently vacant.
In this sense, it is significant that Pope Francis, when speaking of the proclamation of the Gospel in China, used the term “freedom”, and recalled that in the Catholic community there are also “pastors and faithful who suffer”. One of them – as we mentioned a few days ago – is the vicar of the diocese of Xuanhua in Hebei, Monsignor Simone Zhang Jianlin, who has been under arrest for two years, in the same diocese where the clandestine bishop Augustine Cui Tai has been subjected to periodic arrests for 16 years.
After the pandemic, this year it was possible to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan again in China with pilgrimages in the month of May. Archbishop Shen Bin presided last week for the Shanghai Archdiocese, during which he recited the prayer composed by Benedict XVI in 2008 on the occasion of the first World Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China. Pope Francis himself has an image of Our Lady of Sheshan in his room at Casa Santa Marta, as he himself showed Card. Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, during the private audience he granted him at the Vatican last January.