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 CNS Story:

SHESHAN-SHANGHAI May-22-2013 (710 words) xxxi

With no bishop, Shanghai priests concerned about Masses, pilgrimages

By N.J. Viehland
Catholic News Service

MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- A Chinese priest who recently arrived in the Philippines said that, this year, he did not make his usual May trek up Sheshan hill outside Shanghai, where thousands of pilgrims offer special prayers to Mary, Help of Christians.

Speaking to Catholic News Service on the condition of anonymity, the priest said that, until he left China, Shanghai priests -- who currently have no bishop -- were still discussing how to proceed with the month's largest pilgrimage, May 24. Shanghai Bishop Jin Luxian died April 27; his Vatican-approved successor, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, is under house arrest.

Bishop Ma has been detained since his ordination as bishop last July when he publicly quit the government-run Catholic Patriotic Association, which directs the church in China, spurning ties with the Vatican.

"I admire Bishop Jin, because he is very wise and knows how to deal with the government and with Rome," the young Chinese priest said. "I also admire the bravery of Bishop Ma."

In Manila May 18, the Chinese priest said, "Shanghai clergy meet every now and then and discuss whether to let a bishop of the patriotic association come and say Mass. But they do not want them to preside at the Masses. They say, 'We (Shanghai priests) will say the Masses.'"

The Chinese priest said he believes Bishop Jin's death and troubles with Bishop Ma may be making the government more nervous about the Sheshan pilgrimages, which attract tens of thousands of pilgrims each May. The pilgrimages culminate May 24, designated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 as the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

"I have a classmate ... a priest now in another province who tried to bring two busloads of people on a pilgrimage to Sheshan April 30, but they were refused at the gate at the foot of the mountain," the priest said.

Some religious told him they got announcements from the Shanghai government saying they should prevent people in their provinces from going to the Sheshan shrine. Others reported being required to apply for a special pass, similar to one required for interprovince travel in 2008 during the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

However, the priest said he expects there will still be "many pilgrims," especially May 24.

"When the church is suffering, we know God is with us," he said.

He links the story of the devotion to Our Lady of Sheshan and the pilgrimage to the story of the struggle of Shanghai church and the rest of China's 10 million Catholics.

The shrine and 2-ton bronze statue of Mary raising the child Jesus above her head is located in Song Jiang district on the outskirts of Shanghai, where a 19th-century Jesuit retreat center was built in the middle of a bamboo forest. In the 1870s Jesuit priests reportedly prayed to Our Lady of Sheshan for protection, and the diocese was spared from attacks during the Taiping Rebellion.

Jesuit priests led the construction of a new church there in that era. It drew large groups of pilgrims from around China and Asia each May. In 1894 Catholics built a church midway up the mountain and dedicated it to Mary as Mediatrix. Three chapels built soon after were dedicated to Mary, St. Joseph, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Stations of the Cross were built along the path to the mountaintop.

The current structure was completed in 1935. In 1942, Pope Pius XII named the Sheshan Cathedral a minor basilica.

During the 1949 Communist Revolution, the church's stained glass windows were heavily damaged, and carvings, and art work and the statue on the bell tower were destroyed.

In the 1950s, Bishop Ignatius Kung Pin-mei of Shanghai was arrested and imprisoned for more than 30 years, and the Chinese government put the basilica under the control of Catholic Patriotic Association. When the revolution ended, damage to the church was repaired, and the statue was replaced in 2000.

The Chinese priest said prayers for the church in China are needed because, in addition to churches and structures being destroyed in rebellions and revolution, relationships were affected. In a 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics, Pope Benedict urged reconciliation among those who functioned underground and those who decided to work with the Chinese government.


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