Around 2,000 Chinese pilgrims gathered at China’s largest Catholic shrine this morning to observe the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan and the World Prayer Day for the Church in China.
The event at the Sheshan Marian shrine in Shanghai was the first since Pope Francis took office, and the first since the barring of Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has not been allowed to enter his Episcopal ministry since July 2011.
Those who gathered today also marked the death last month of Coadjutor Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, who heads the 'open' community of the Shanghai diocese.
Pope Francis on Wednesday encouraged Catholics across the globe to join in the World Day of Prayer, which was first declared by his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2007. He gave special mention to China, where Catholics are growing increasingly frustrated at what they say is interference in the Church by the government.
A recently introduced regulation stipulates that bishops up for election must have approval from the government-sanctioned Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China and demonstrate support for the ruling Communist Party of China.
Bishop Ma offended Beijing when he quit his post at the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in July 2011.
“We feel helpless, as the government has paved the way for our Church,” said one elderly Shanghai native. “We can do nothing but pray in silence.”
Church sources said that government officials in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, strongholds of the unregistered Church community in eastern China, had dissuaded Catholics there from traveling to Sheshan for the event.