The procession at the Sheshan Marian Shrine near Shanghai on May 24. (UCANEWS.COM photo). The number of pilgrims was probably the largest since the local government tightened security at the first such celebration in 2008.

SHANGHAI, CHINA – There was a greater atmosphere of festivity at the Sheshan Marian shrine near Shanghai this year as crowds thronged the pilgrimage site to celebrate its feast day.

Though May 24 was a weekday, more than 10,000 people gathered at Our Lady, Help of Christians Church in Seshan to observe the annual Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China, established by the pope in 2007.

In the early morning, the square outside the church, set on a hillside, was packed by pilgrims who knelt to pray in front of the statues of the Blessed Mother, St Joseph and Jesus.

At 8.45 am, they followed the statue of Our Lady of Sheshan in a procession up the hill to the Minor Basilica of St Mary, reciting the rosary as they walked.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Xing Wenzhi of Shanghai and 37 priests celebrated a Mass at the basilica. Hundreds of people could not get in because it was too crowded.

It was probably the largest number of pilgrims seen since the local government tightened security around the hill in 2008 when the first such celebration was held.

Bishop Xing reminded local Catholics to thank the universal Church, as “friends from around the world are praying for our China Church on the same day”.

The 48-year-old prelate also encouraged them to learn from the Blessed Mother, have faith in Christ and hope for unity and communion in the Church. At the end of the Mass, he led the congregation to recite aloud Pope Benedict XVI’s Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan in front of the Marian statue.

The diocese’s “underground” Church community had been warned by government officials not to go to Sheshan in May. A local source said the priests celebrated Masses at Catholics’ homes on May 24 and the number of attendees was double that of other weekday Masses.

“We recited the pope’s prayer and other prayers to Our Lady, Help of Christians,” the source continued. He said the prayers of Catholics around the world “enabled us to celebrate this significant feast peacefully”.

There were rumours that Sheshan would be under tight police security after the pope referred to Sheshan in a May 18 message, asking for prayers for China. However, most pilgrims said they did not feel any tension at the site.

A priest, who led nearly 100 Catholics to Sheshan, said there were more devotees than in previous years and they were not subject to security checks.

Meanwhile, some young Shanghai Catholics launched a 24-hour prayer session from 6 pm on May 23. They took turns to recite the rosary and Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan every 20 minutes. Priests and nuns also joined in after they heard of the youths’ initiative. -UCANEWS.COM

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