The statue of Our Lady of Luck installed in the National Shrine and Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai. Each year during May thousands throng this pilgrim center, but the pilgrimage has been suspended this year. (Photo: Wikipedia)
All public church activities in China, including Marian pilgrimages, have been suspended for another month, announced the two bodies that run the state-controlled Catholic Church in the communist country.The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and its bishops' forum, the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China, jointly announced the further delay to activities. It aims to avoid gatherings as part of measures to check the Covid-19 pandemic, they said.The announcement issued on April 26 suspended all churches' activities and traditional Marian pilgrimages throughout May.The notice also delayed the opening of seminaries and religious institutes that train church personnel.Some Catholics suspect the communist regime is using the pandemic as a cover to suppress religion as the move comes amid administrative claims of dissipating Covid-19.
'Calendar dates unimportant'
The notice asked all dioceses and parishes to suspend all pilgrimage programs. It also advised clergy to explain and counsel Catholics on the need to suspend Marian pilgrimages.
Father Peter, a priest in a diocese adjacent to Shanghai, explained to his parishioners that the calendar date is not essential to a pilgrimage. "It has the same significance at other times too as long as we do it with faith."Father Peter said Shanghai schools are preparing to start the school year soon. "Religious places and institutes should gradually open as soon as the students start schools," he said.A bishop of a northern diocese said the government should not be blamed for putting restrictions because "it is a serious pandemic. It really can't be ignored."However, Beijing parishioner Li Xue questioned the decision to cancel pilgrimages. She noted that several tourist attractions have not only reopened but also engaged in various promotions."These tourist places are obviously more crowded and concentrated than the pilgrim centers," she said. "The government has a bit too much control over religion. The authorities are using the epidemic as an excuse to curtail religious freedom, and that's the scary part." Father Dong of Hebei echoed those sentiments. "The Chinese Communist Party has always been hostile to religion. They are looking for opportunities to suppress the Church."