By Devin Watkins & Paolo Ondarza
As the Church marks the Day of Prayer for the Church in China, Pope Francis assured Chinese Catholics of the nearness of the universal Church. His remarks came after the prayer of the Regina Coeli on Sunday.
“Dearest Catholic brothers and sisters in China, I wish to assure you that the universal Church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in your trials. She accompanies you with prayer for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel might shine in you as the power of God for the salvation of those who believe.”
Catholics in China celebrate the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians and Patroness of China on Sunday. The Virgin Mary is venerated under this title at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai.
Pope Francis prayed that the Chinese faithful “might be strong in faith and steadfast in fraternal union, joyful witnesses, promoters of charity and hope, and good citizens.”
Day of Prayer of Church in China
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a “Letter to Chinese Catholics” and proclaimed a Day of Prayer for the Church in China, which is celebrated every year on 24 May.
For the occasion, Pope Benedict wrote a prayer to the Blessed Virgin, asking her to guide the people of God "along the paths of truth and love" so that there might be "in every circumstance a ferment of harmonious coexistence among all.”
He prayed that Catholics around the world might support "the commitment of those in China who, among their daily labours, continue to believe, hope, and love, so that they might never fear to speak of Jesus to the world and of the world to Jesus.” Finally, Pope Benedict implored the Mother of God to "help Catholics to be always credible witnesses of love, remaining united to the Rock of Peter, upon which the Church is built.”
Care for Chinese Catholics
Pope Francis has demonstrated particular care for the faithful in China since the beginning of his pontificate. Each year, on the Day of Prayer, the Pope has never failed to express his closeness and affection to all Chinese Catholics.
A key moment in diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China took place on 22 September 2018, with the signing of the Provisional Agreement.
Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin described the accord as "both a point of arrival on a long road and above all a starting point" for "a new phase of greater collaboration for the good of the Chinese Catholic community and for the harmony of the whole of society."
"We must walk together," said Cardinal Parolin in an interview with the Global Times, "because only in this way can we heal the wounds and misunderstandings of the past, to show the world that even from distant positions fruitful agreements can be reached.”
Holy See and Chinese government
Pope Francis wrote about the Provisional Agreement in his Message to Chinese Catholics and the Universal Church on 26 September 2018. He called it "the fruit of the extensive and complex institutional dialogue between the Holy See and authorities of the Chinese government, which was inaugurated by Saint John Paul II and continued by Pope Benedict XVI.”
“It is not a matter of appointing officials for the management of religious matters, but of having authentic Pastors according to the heart of Jesus, committed to work generously in the service of the people of God.”
Many initiatives have characterized the relationship between the Holy See and China over the last two years. The Chinese government allowed two Catholic Bishops, Joseph Guo Jincai and John Baptist Yang Xiaoting, to participate in the Synod on Young People which took place in the Vatican in 2018.
The government also approved the Episcopal Consecration with Papal Mandate in August 2019 of Anthony Yao Shun and Stephen Xu Hongwei, respectively the Bishop of Jining/Wulanchabu, in Inner Mongolia, and the Coadjutor Bishop of Hanzhong, in the north-western province of Shaanxi.
Expressions of solidarity
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been mutual expressions of solidarity between the Holy See and China with donations of personal protective equipment aimed at fighting the virus.
Many Chinese Catholics have also participated through social media in the celebration of Pope Francis’s daily Masses in the Casa Santa Marta.
The journey of dialogue and mutual understanding has helped “build a common future of greater harmony", as desired by the Holy Father.
The journey also includes culture and beauty, represented by an exhibition entitled “Beauty Unites Us: Chinese Art from the Vatican Museums”. The highly symbolic exhibition was organized in Beijing by the Vatican Museums, and took place from 28 May until 14 July 2019 at the Palace Museum of the Forbidden City.