In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed May 24, the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, to be a World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, which venerates the Blessed Virgin Mary under that title as the country’s patroness.
This year, Pope Francis has asked Catholics to join him in praying for the faithful in China.
“This coming Tuesday is the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin, Mary Help of Christians, particularly dear to Catholics in China who venerate Mary, Help of Christians as their Patroness in the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai, in many churches throughout the country, and in their homes,” Pope Francis said on May 22.
“This happy occasion offers me the opportunity to assure them once again of my spiritual closeness. I am attentively and actively following the often complex life and situations of the faithful and pastors, and I pray every day for them,” he said.
The pope continued, “I invite all of you to unite yourselves in this prayer so that the Church in China, in freedom and tranquility, might live in effective communion with the universal Church, and might exercise its mission of proclaiming the Gospel to everyone, and thus offer a positive contribution to the spiritual and material progress of society, as well.”
In response, the Catholic humanitarian organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and other human rights groups have also called for prayer.
Adding to the urgency for prayer this year are reports that Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the 90-year-old retired bishop of Hong Kong who is an outspoken support of the pro-democracy movement there, is expected to return to court on Tuesday in connection with his May 11 arrest for allegedly violating China’s national security law.
“The wish of Benedict XVI was to promote unity in a community that had become divided into ‘official’ and ‘underground,’ but at the same time, to foster communion between the entire Catholic Church and Chinese Catholics. Therefore, on this day, all Catholics are called to express their solidarity with Christians in China,” ACN said in a statement released on May 23.
“Furthermore,” the statement continued, “the prayer aims at strengthening Catholics in their faith, especially at a time when public witness and practice of faith or even the explicit proclamation of the Gospel are increasingly restricted by the Chinese communist government.”
Here is the prayer Benedict XVI asked Catholics to pray on this occasion:
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.