In his 2007 letter to the faithful in China, Pope Benedict XVI established May 24 as a special day of prayer for the Chinese Church, declaring that on that day “the Catholics of the whole world – in particular those who are of Chinese origin – will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for [Chinese Catholics], asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure.”
During his Regina Caeli address in Rome last Sunday, the Holy Father reminded those assembled of this special day of prayer:
Thursday, 24 May, is the day dedicated to the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, venerated with great devotion at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai: we join in prayer all the Catholics in China, that they may proclaim with humility and joy Christ’s death and Resurrection, that they may be faithful to the Church and to the Successor of Peter and live their daily life consistently with the faith that they profess. May Mary, Faithful Virgin, sustain the journey of Chinese Catholics, render their prayer ever more intense and precious in the eyes of the Lord, and make the affection and participation of the universal Church grow on the path of the Church which is in China.
Meanwhile, Asia News reports that more than 3,000 people attended Mass at Our Lady of Sheshan Basilica for the feast of Mary, Help of Christians, despite tight security operations undertaken by the government in an effort to clamp down on pilgrims:
In the past, Our Lady of Sheshan shrine used to draw up to 200,000 pilgrims on the feast day, from all over China.
Since 2008, a year after the pope set aside that day as a Day of Prayer for the Church in China, the government has not allowed pilgrims from any diocese, except that of Shanghai, to visit the shrine in Sheshan.
Some underground priests told AsiaNews that they could not have big celebrations as security was tight, but they did remind their parishioners to pray for the suffering Church in China and for harmony in their respective dioceses.
“I especially prayed for the all the bishops and pastors in China, especially those who are under detention. May the Lord strengthen their faith. We feel lonely in this struggle for the freedom of faith,” Fr Peter, an underground priest, noted.
On May 24, 2008, Pope Benedict promulgated this prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan for the first World Day of Prayer for the Church in China:
Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title “Help of Christians”,
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.
When you obediently said “yes” in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously cooperated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.
From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross.
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.
Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.
In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!