The Marian procession at the Sheshan shrine
There was even more of a festive atmosphere this year for the feast day at Our Lady, Help of Christians Church's Sheshan Marian shrine on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Though yesterday was a weekday, more than 10,000 people gathered at the pilgrimage site to observe the annual Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China created by the pope in 2007.
In the early morning, the square outside the mid-level church was packed by pilgrims who knelt to pray in front of the statues of the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
At 8:45 am, they began to follow the statue of Our Lady of Sheshan in a slow procession up the hill to the Minor Basilica of St. Mary, reciting the Rosary as they walked.
Then Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Xing Wenzhi of Shanghai and 37 priests celebrated a solemn Mass in the hilltop basilica. Hundreds of people could not get in because it was too crowded.
It was probably the largest number of pilgrims since the local government tightened security around the hill on the first prayer day in 2008.
Bishop Xing reminded local Catholics to thank the universal Church, as “friends from around the world are praying for our China Church on the same day, which would form an immeasurable power.”
The 48-year-old prelate also encouraged them to learn from the Blessed Mother, have faith in Christ and hope for unity and communion of the Church. At the end of the Mass, he led the congregation to recite aloud Pope Benedict XVI’s “Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan” in front of the Marian statue.
Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, 95, did not appear at the shrine during the day.
The diocese’s “underground” community has been warned by government officials not to go to Sheshan in May. A local source said the priests celebrated Masses at Catholics’ homes on May 24 and the number of attendees doubled that of normal weekday Masses.
“We recited the pope’s prayer and other prayers to Our Lady, Help of Christians. We also introduced the history of the Sheshan shrine and made a solemn blessing before the Mass ended,” the source continued.
He thanked the prayers of Catholics in the world that “enabled us to pass this significant feast peacefully and full of grace.”
Regarding rumors that Sheshan is under tight police security, local Church sources said there were some tensions after the pope mentioned Sheshan in his May 18 message to call for the universal Church to pray for China.
But most pilgrims, whether from “open” or “underground” communities, did not feel the atmosphere on the hill was tense. A Shanghai nun said the control was not obviously tight. “This year we have arranged dozens of lay helpers to keep order, so there are fewer security officers to reduce any bad feelings the pilgrims might have,” she said.
More than 400 underground Catholic pilgrims from Wenzhou diocese in the neighboring Zhejiang province visited Sheshan on May 22. They contacted Shanghai diocese in advance and traveled in 12 coaches. Though there were about 100 traffic police at the bottom of the hill, their activity was smooth and unimpeded, they said.
An open priest who led nearly 100 Catholics to visit Sheshanestimated there were more attendees than in previous years and they did not receive any security check. But he thought the government might impose tighter measures to local Catholics while treat pilgrims from outer provinces less strictly.
Meanwhile, some young Catholics from Shanghai launched an online prayer chain for 24 hours from 6 pm on May 23. They took turns to recite the Rosary and the Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan every 20 minutes. Priests and nuns also joined in after they heard the youth’s devotion.
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