In his Letter to the Church in China, May 27, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI established May 24, the feast day of Our Lady Help of Christians, as a Universal Day of Prayer for the Church in China. A year later he composed the following prayer and asked that it be recited every year on May 24.
Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title “Help of Christians,”
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.
When you obediently said “yes” in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously co-operated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.
From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross.
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.
Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.
In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!
Every year, since May 24, 1871, the day the church of Our Lady Help of Christians was first opened and consecrated, the faithful of Shanghai, and from other more distant regions, would make a pilgrimage to the church on this festive day. The shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan (the mountain). This first modest church was built in thanksgiving to Mary for saving Shanghai from a wave of murderous, roving, Boxer warlords. Sixty-four years later, in 1935, a much larger church was completed, which became China’s first basilica. As a young priest, Ignatius Cardinal Kung was there for that glorious ceremony. In 1949, he would be consecrated Bishop of Shanghai.
On May 17, 1955, a wonderful thing happened, which gave great consolation to the Chinese faithful who were suffering from the horrors of the initial waves of the Communist persecution. Pope Pius XII blessed the holy image of Our Lady of China, as it appears above the altar in the basilica of Sheshan. On the back of the holy cards bearing the image was printed the Union of Prayer for the persecuted Church of China. This prayer for the persecuted Church was written by Cardinal Tien, the first Chinese cardinal. (Sad to say this prayer was replaced with one less critical of the Reds.) To honor the occasion, and the importance of the prayer, the annual pilgrimage to Our Lady’s shrine this year, 1955, was being organized into a grand ceremonial. It was to be Bishop Kung’s last public pilgrimage to the basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians before his arrest the following September. On the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, May 24, ten thousand faithful filed in behind their shepherd and all the clergy of Shanghai in processing the forty kilometers to the hallowed mountain shrine. Although even close friends tried to talk the bishop out of participating in this pilgrimage, on account of the extreme risk involved, nothing could keep Ignatius Kung away from such a glorious Marian event. It was a magnificent manifestation of the reign of Christ the King on earth as it is in heaven.
Our Lady’s original church, honoring her historic title, Help of Christians, was built on She-shan (shan means mountain) in 1871 in As a young priest, Ignatius had witnessed the groundbreaking on She-shan for what would become, in 1935, China’s first basilica.
It was with martyrdom in mind that, sometime before his arrest, Bishop Kung sent an urgent message to all of his presbyters to join him at a certain date and time at the basilica. There, before the altar, at their pastor’s command, every priest solemnly promised not to betray the Faith by joining a government-controlled, national Church, which, it had been rumored, was soon to be established. Almost all the clergy of Shanghai kept that promise. Among those present on that solemn occasion was Jesuit Father Aloysius Jin Luxian, who would later break his promise, join the Patriotic Association, and, in 1988, usurp the bishopric of Shanghai, while the true Catholic bishop, Ignatius Kung, after thirty years in prison, was quartered under house arrest in the city’s CPA episcopal residence.
Today the persecution of China’s Catholic clergy and faithful continues. Every year, as this feast day approaches the Communists get nervous, and commence a crack-down on priests and pilgrims. Whereas, when the Church was free, tens of thousands of pilgrims would make their way to the shrine on May 24; today, as you read this, only few hundred managed to overcome the barriers and come safely to Sheshan.
AsiaNews reports: AsiaNews sources confirm that this year “security in Sheshan is very tight, with police and checkpoints with video cameras placed everywhere.” One priest, however, confirmed that tomorrow Mgr. Xing Wenzhi, auxiliary bishop of Shanghai will go to the shrine to celebrate a mass. The ordinary of the diocese, Mgr. Aloysius Jin Luxian, 95, will not participate, having already presided at mass at the shrine on 1 and 11 May last.
Sources in the underground community in Shanghai yesterday told AsiaNews that their priests have been “taken away by police for a tour at government expense” to prevent them from making the pilgrimage to Sheshan, as they had planned. Yesterday none of the city’s underground community was able to celebrate mass because of the absence of their priests.
Sometimes, some communities are able to circumvent controls. A young priest said that in 2010 public security tried to stop them, but he and his group managed to get to Sheshan. “We arrived at Sheshan on May 24 with much sadness and difficulty, but we were happy to offer our prayers to Our Lady on this special day.”
It also reported arrests among the priests of the underground community of North China. Some of them had prepared hundreds of copies of the prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan, distributing them to the faithful.
Read the full report from AsiaNews here.