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PORTIUNCULA PILGRIMAGE NOT DAMPENED BY ACCIDENT CAUSING ONLY MINOR INJURIES

China

August 07 1997

TAIYUAN, China (UCAN) - A coach loaded with pilgrims overturned on a rugged road on its way back from Our Lady´s Church in Bansishan, northern China, but there were no major injuries to mar the annual Portiuncula pilgrimage.

Coach passengers received only minor injuries, government-recognized Bishop Silvester Li Jiantang of Taiyuan, in Shanxi province, told UCA News Aug 4. The church at Bansishan (Bansi mountain) is 1,700 meters above sea level.

Despite bad weather the previous days, over 12,000 pilgrims from underground and open Church communities throughout Shanxi and neighboring Hebei province flocked to Bansishan to pray for rain and to gain the Portiuncula Indulgence.

"The underground Catholics also go on pilgrimage there but do not enter the church," said Bishop Li in Taiyuan, 400 kilometers southwest of Beijing.

"Since the weather in Shanxi is dry for almost eight months of the year, lay peasants usually go there to plead for rain," a young priest told UCA News.

The Portiuncula Indulgence lasts for 36 hours from midday on Aug. 1 through Aug. 2. It originated with a vision of Saint Francis of Assisi in which the Blessed Mother promised that people visiting his chapel in Portiuncula, near Assisi, Italy, on any Aug. 2 would obtain a plenary indulgence for the dead.

It was later extended to all Franciscan churches and public oratories, and then to any parish, with certain permissions. Should Aug. 2 fall on a weekday, the indulgence can be transferred to the following Sunday.

Taiyuan diocese was an apostolate vicariate run by Italian Franciscans before the founding of the People´s Republic of China in 1949. Bansishan is about two hours by car from Taiyuan, the Shanxi provincial capital.

Around 2,000 Catholics arrived at Bansishan on Aug. 2 and slept in houses belonging to the church, a convenience added only in recent times.

Most pilgrims, though, chose to come on the second day, meaning that those in faraway dioceses had to start on their journey in the middle of the night.

For some, the journey itself was a pilgrimage. Those who packed the minibus from Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Taiyuan recited the rosary and other prayers, and sang hymns all along the road.

Other pilgrims arriving in coaches and lorries had to proceed on foot from a roadblock guarded by public security officers halfway up the church hill. Only mule-carts, jeeps and motorcycles were allowed to pass through.

The minibus coming from the Taoyuan cathedral, and used for transporting bibles and liturgy books up the hill, had a letter from Bishop Li requesting special permission to go up to the church. It overturned on its way back, shortly after passing through the roadblock.

"The road is usually blocked on Aug. 2. Otherwise, too many laity will drive their vehicles uphill and it would lose the meaning of pilgrimage," explained Father Anthony Han Huide.

Most pilgrims spent two hours walking the 10 kilometers of rugged paths up and down gorges to the church compound, kneeling and praying at the stations of the cross that lead up to a Marian statue in front of the Church.

Before noon, Father Han and 12 other young priests concelebrated a Mass in the open square in front of the church, since the church could not accommodate so many people. Individual parishes held Masses inside the church, one after the other from morning till night.

According to local tradition, Mary appeared at Bansishan in 1783 and opened the eyes of a blind child. A Franciscan bishop built a church on the site, and another Franciscan bishop later rebuilt it.

The church was damaged during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and in 1988, repairs and the construction of a rugged road were completed under the supervision of Bishop Li, when he was not yet a bishop.

END

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