By Christopher Wells
“Tomorrow, the Catholic faithful in China celebrate the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, the celestial patron of their great country,” Pope Francis noted in remarks following the Regina Coeli on Sunday.
The Holy Father recalled the great devotion of Chinese Catholics to “the Mother of the Lord [and] of the Church” at her sanctuary of Sheshan in Shanghai. Under the title of Our Lady of Sheshan, she “is assiduously invoked by Christian families in the trials and hopes of daily life.”
He added, “How good and how necessary it is that the members of a family and of a Christian community are ever more united in love and in faith! In this way, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, pastors and faithful can follow the example of the first disciples who, on the solemnity of Pentecost, were united in prayer with Mary as they awaited the Holy Spirit.”
The Pope invited all the faithful to accompany the Christian faithful in China, “dearest brothers and sisters, whom I hold in the depth of my heart,” with “fervent prayer.”
He prayed that the Holy Spirit, “the protagonist of the Church's mission in the world, guide them and help them to be bearers of the happy message, witnesses of goodness and charity, and builders of justice and peace in their country.”
A Day of Prayer for the Church in China
In 2007, Benedict XVI encouraged Catholics of the whole world to mark the Feast of Mary Help of Christians – May 24 – as a Day of Prayer for the Church in China. In a Letter to the Chinese faithful, he encouraged Chinese Catholics to the celebrate the day “by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible.”
On that same day, he said, “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.”
The Closeness of the Universal Church
Last year, marking the Day of Prayer for the Church in China, Pope Francis assured Chinese Catholics 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.”
On that occasion, 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.”
Agreement on the appointment of Bishops
In October of 2022, the Holy See and China’s communist government renewed a Provisional Agreement concerning the appointment of Bishops for the Church in China. The agreement is aimed primarily at “sustaining and promoting the proclamation of the Gospel in that land, restoring the full and visible unity of the Church,” according to L’Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of Vatican City State.
A statement from the Holy See Press Office announcing the extension of the deal said, “The Holy See considers the initial application of the Agreement – which is of great ecclesial and pastoral value – to have been positive, thanks to good communication and cooperation between the Parties on the matters agreed upon, and intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people.”
Composed by Pope Benedict XVI
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 cooperated 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!