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Bishop Continues Personal Mission To Develop Shrine Despite Illness


October 26 2006

Bishop Joseph Zheng Changcheng of Fuzhou, though gravely ill, has continued working to develop the popular Marian shrine in his diocese in southeastern China.

Rosa Mystica Sanctuary, which Fuzhou diocese inaugurated in 1993, houses Our Lady of the Rosary Church, a library and a guesthouse. It is located in Changle, about 30 kilometers southeast of Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province.

Bishop Zheng, 94, was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in June, but he continued to plan and add new exhibits to the shrine until his health deteriorated in September, Sister Zheng Wenying told UCA News Oct. 16. Her convent manages the shrine and has a convent in the complex.

Three days after the "open-Church" bishop was hospitalized in Fuzhou on Sept. 22, construction work began on the "Science and Religion" gallery he designed. The prelate asked the contractors to finish before the end of October, the month traditionally devoted to the rosary, when pilgrimages peak.

The hilltop shrine, formerly called Rosary Hill, features sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross, carvings associated with the mysteries of the rosary, statues of the Blessed Mother and gardens.

The new gallery, near the shrine entrance at the foot of the hill, features portraits of 13 well-known scientists, accompanied by plaques bearing information on them and their respective views on religion. The scientists include Isaac Newton and James Watt.

Bishop Zheng wrote all the accompanying text. The plaque for Albert Einstein includes the quotation: "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."

The exhibit tells visitors that the Catholic faith is rational and closely connected with science, Sister Zheng explained.

Bishop Zheng, who has a special affection for the Blessed Mother, told UCA News in September that one of his last wishes is to have the Holy Father approve the shrine as a pilgrimage site and the church as a basilica.

According to Sister Zheng, local Catholics and those from other provinces flock to the shrine for pilgrimages in May and October. Tens of thousands already have come this month, many of them for the Oct. 7 feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the diocese´s patronal feast.

All 26 diocesan priests celebrated the feast-day Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Church with about 3,000 Catholics attending. It was the first time since Bishop Zheng was ordained bishop of Fuzhou in 1991 that he did not preside at the Mass. It has been held at the shrine since it opened in 1993.

Pilgrimage activities at the shrine climaxed on Oct. 13, the day commemorating the last of the six times the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

On that day, more than 5,000 Catholics from Fuzhou and nearby dioceses in Shanghai city, and Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces visited and prayed at the shrine, Sister Zheng said.

Another new project under construction at the shrine is a series of head-and-shoulder portraits of Saint Peter and all the popes in unbroken succession since him, expressing the diocese´s full communion with the pope and Roman Catholic Church, Sister Zheng said. The portraits are being placed on a wall beside Our Lady of the Rosary Church.

A middle-aged Fuzhou Catholic surnamed Wang told UCA News that she prayed through the intercession of the Blessed Mother for her son, a student in is final year of high school. "I wish God would help him enter university next year and then guide him in finding a good job," she said.

Her family follows the practice of making a pilgrimage here every October. Besides praying, the laywoman also thanked the Blessed Mother, who she said fulfilled the request she made last year.

The shrine is popular not only with Catholics but with Protestants and others who come to pray for their family members, for children taking examinations, or when they hope to have a baby or plan to travel abroad.

Fuzhou is about 1,600 kilometers southeast of Beijing.


(Accompanying photos available at here)