1990-12-03 00:00:00

Catholic pilgrims incessantly visit the graveyard of Saint Francis Xavier here, in southern China, to reflect on the saint´s effort to evangelize China 438 years ago.

Following the visit of 30 students from a Jesuit-run high school in Macau, 76 pilgrims from 37 parishes of the Hong Kong diocese prayed at the graveyard, shortly before Saint Francis Xavier´s feastday Dec. 3.

Hundreds of mainland Chinese Catholics, from Jiangmen diocese to which Shangchuan Island belongs, and from neighboring dioceses, travel to pray at the graveyard on the feastday every year, an aged graveyard keeper said.

This island in the South China Sea was the place where Francis Xavier died of illness on Dec. 3, 1552, while he was waiting to enter mainland China.

His body was buried on the island for about two months before it was exhumed and transferred first to Malacca and then to Goa.

Francis Xavier was one of the first members of the Society of Jesus founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1540.

More pilgrims are expected to visit the graveyard during the celebrations Sept. 27, 1990-July 31, 1991, of the 500th birthday of Saint Ignatius and the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Society of Jesus.

To celebrate the two events, the Jesuit Hong Kong-Macau Province organized a pilgrimage Nov. 23-25 to Shangchuan Island, and to Zhaoqing, where Jesuits Matteo Ricci and Pompilio Ruggieri began their mission to mainland China.

Titled "Pursuit of Dreams," the trip aimed at helping the 76 Hong Kong Catholics follow the Jesuit missioners´ footsteps to China and "to share their dreams of evangelization" on the mainland, Jesuit Brother Paul Chan Tsun-wai told UCA News.

Brother Chan, a leader of the pilgrimage, said the Jesuits will organize at least one more trip to these holy places next March.

The pilgrims made their first stop at Macau´s St. Francis Xavier Church at Coloane where the pilgrims celebrated the Eucharist before relics of St. Francis Xavier´s elbow.

A Hong Kong Catholic quoted a Chinese government religious affairs official as saying it was known that the elbow relics had been brought to the Shangchuan graveyard for veneration at least three times in the past few years.

On arrival at Shangchuan island, the Hong Kong pilgrims prayed at the chapel of the Francis Xavier Graveyard and then walked by the 14 Stations of the Cross to reach the saint´s statue, erected in the summer of 1987. The present chapel, completed in 1986, is a reproduction of the chapel built in 1869.

Jesuit Father Wilfred Chan Yu-hai told UCA News Nov. 25 that some of the chapel´s windows were broken, part of its ceiling needed repairs and that the path going up to the chapel was not completed.

More than HK$3,000 (US$385), collected among the Hong Kong pilgrims, would be donated for the maintenance and repairs of the chapel, Father Chan said.

To visit the saint´s graveyard, people have to pay entrance fees and be escorted by its management staff, according to regulations set by the graveyard management committee under the Taishan county government´s religious affairs office June 1987.

The regulations also state that all Catholic groups and organizations from Hong Kong, Macau and overseas must obtain identification papers from the religious affairs office before visiting the site.

Local Catholics here estimate the Catholic population on the island at about 400, in the two Catholic villages existing here for generations.


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