MAY 24 is the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians and the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China set out by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in his milestone 2007 Letter to the Church in China.
In his letter, the retired pope wrote: “Dear Pastors and all the faithful, the date 24 May could in the future become an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China. This day is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai… On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world—in particular those who are of Chinese origin—will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure.” (Letter #19)
Thirteen years have passed. Due to the threat posed by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians in the Catholic Church in China this year will be different.
On April 26, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China issued a notice to all provinces and cities that during the month of May, month of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order to avoid the resurgence of infections, “the opening of all Catholic activity venues and religious gatherings should continue to be suspended. Opening of all Catholic colleges and schools should be postponed.”
In addition, the religious life of the Catholic Church and other faiths on the mainland has also encountered other challenges, According a report by UCAN in late April, Chinese authorities removed crosses from churches as soon as the pandemic appeared to subside.
Some Protestant media also noted that in the midst of the outbreak in February, “some Protestant pastors were interrogated by policemen for fasting and praying for the (end to the) coronavirus outbreak; some family churches which had engaged in online live services were charged (with) preaching online.”
Jesuit Father Benoît Vermander, who teaches religious sciences at Fudan University Shanghai, wrote in the May 15 edition of La Civiltà Cattolica that China, the first country hit by the Covid-19 coronavirus, is also the first nation to try to return to a certain normality. Therefore, it should be role model in tackling the pandemic.
The article was of the view that China must understand that how it deals with these issues will radically influence the work in fighting the pandemic, as well as its relations with Europe and the rest of the world.
His advice is equally applicable to the religious policies currently adopted by China and its approach to handling various ideologies.
In this difficult time, may the faithful around the world who are mindful of the Church in China remember the prayer of by Pope Benedict at the conclusion of his letter: “I pray that you, dear Pastors of the Catholic Church which is in China, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful, may ‘rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:6-7).”
Our Mother of Sheshan, please pray for us. SE