BEIJING (CNS) – Catholic authorities in mainland China have taken the unprecedented step of advising Catholics on how to conduct Marian devotions and make pilgrimage arrangements.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China have urged all dioceses in China to organize pilgrimages locally rather than in other provinces or municipalities, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.
The five-point notice from the two government-approved bodies also asks the dioceses to implement security measures to ensure pilgrims’ safety.
Anthony Liu Bainian, a vice chairman of the patriotic association, confirmed to UCA News April 29 that the two administrative organizations had not previously issued instructions on devotions during the Marian month of May. They decided to do so this year because they "estimated the number of pilgrims would increase and wanted to ease the pressure on Shanghai," he explained.
Pope Benedict XVI has asked Catholics worldwide to pray for the Chinese Catholic Church May 24, the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians. In making the request in his letter to Catholics in China, released last June, he noted that Mary is "venerated with great devotion" at the Marian shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai May 24.
Liu told UCA News prospective pilgrims to Sheshan "must contact (the) Shanghai Diocese and arrange a date in advance" for their pilgrimage to avoid overcrowding at the shrine, located in a Shanghai suburb.
He also pointed out that although the pope’s letter asks Catholics worldwide to pray for the church in China May 24 it does not equate this with a pilgrimage to Sheshan.
The April 3 notice, addressed to local Catholic patriotic associations, church affairs commissions, dioceses, seminaries and convents of the government-approved church community, does not refer to Sheshan or any other mainland Marian pilgrimage sites. It also does not refer to Pope Benedict’s call for the special day of prayer.
One of its five points simply asks all dioceses to organize May devotions and pilgrimage activities locally. It also encourages dioceses to make adequate preparations to receive pilgrims at local churches and Marian shrines.
Catholics who wish to travel to another province for devotions should comply with arrangements stipulated by that province’s Catholic patriotic association and church affairs commission and the destination diocese, the notice says. It also reminds pilgrims to follow instructions given by the respective church bodies that oversee pilgrimage sites.
Three points of the notice suggest other devotions: reciting the rosary; living prayerfully every day in May and learning about Mary’s virtues; and attending Mass every Saturday as well as on Marian feasts during the month.
The last point lists eight prayer intentions. One of them is to pray to Our Lady, Help of Christians, for dynamic pastoral and evangelization work so more Chinese people might receive the good news.
Another calls for prayers for the success and smooth functioning of the Summer Olympic Games in August in Beijing and for outstanding performances from all athletes.
The other prayer intentions are for world peace, the pope and bishops, priestly vocations, a harmonious society, Catholic families, and the poor and the sick.
Liu said other popular Marian shrines in the country – not just Sheshan – also need police help to maintain order each May, the peak pilgrimage season.
According to a June 2007 report from Faith Press, a Catholic newspaper based in Hebei province, the three most popular pilgrimage sites in China last May were the Sheshan shrine; Jianshan Hill in the Jinan Diocese, in Shandong province; and Rosa Mystica Sanctuary in the Fuzhou Diocese, in Fujian province. Approximately 30,000 people visited Jianshan, while Sheshan and Rosa Mystica each attracted 20,000 or more, it said.