Pope Francis prayed for the Catholic faithful in China who were celebrating the feast of the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians and Patroness of China on May 24.
The pontiff assured Chinese Catholics “that the universal Church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in your trials.”
He entrusted the people of China to the Blessed Virgin Mary that they “might be strong in faith and steadfast in fraternal union, joyful witnesses, promoters of charity and hope, and good citizens.”
He said assured the faithful that the Blessed Virgin will accompany them “with prayer for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
The Blessed Virgin Mary is venerated in China under the title Our Lady, Help of Christians and Patroness of China, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai.
There are an estimated 10 million Catholics in China, six million of whom are registered with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, an organization established by the Chinese state in 1957.
“Underground Catholics” or those who did not register with the government are threatened with the ruling regime’s accelerated policy of the “sinicization” of religions.
On Feb. 1, the communist regime imposed a new set of rules with regards to the administrative measures on religions.
The directives indicated that “each religion will be headed by a state-appointed conference” that acts as the supreme decision-making body.
Catholic leaders in China said the directives aimed to abolish the traditional church model headed by bishops and replace them with a state-controlled body.
In 2016, President Xi Jinping said the sinicization of religion aims to adapt religions to Chinese society.
He said the Chinese Communist Party must “guide the adaptation” of religious organizations to the socialist perspective of Chinese society.
The revised measures on the Regulations on Religious Affairs, which was published last year, require all religious organizations to “observe the constitution, laws, regulations, ordinances, and policies, adhere to the principle of independence and self-government, adhere to the directives on religions in China, implementing the values of socialism.”
In 2018, the Vatican and the Chinese government signed an agreement concerning the appointment of bishops in China.
In January, the U.S. Congress through its Congressional Executive Commission on China reported “heightened persecution of Chinese Catholics” following the Vatican-China deal in 2018.
The report, which covered August 2018 to August 2019, noted “the rise of mass internment camps, the persecution of Christians, Muslims and unregistered churches or religious groups.”