Pope Benedict pens special prayer for Chinese Catholics


VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has written a special prayer for Chinese Catholics who face “daily trials” in the officially atheistic country, the Vatican said Friday.

The prayer will be uttered across the world on May 24, a day the pope has dedicated to praying for the Chinese church, which has long had a difficult relationship with the country’s communist authorities.

The prayer — released in Chinese and six other languages — invokes the protection of the Virgin Mary and prominently mentions a shrine dedicated to her at Sheshan, in suburban Shanghai.

Chinese authorities have tried to restrict access to the shrine during this year’s annual May pilgrimages, apparently out of anxiety over large religious gatherings.

“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,” the prayer says.

China’s officially atheistic Communist Party forced Chinese Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, and the two sides have not restored formal relations. Beijing sees the Vatican tradition of the pope naming his own bishops as interference in the country.

China appoints bishops for the state-sanctioned Catholic church. Still, many of the country’s estimated 12 million Catholics worship in congregations outside the state-approved church and often suffer arrests and harassment.

Benedict has made the improvement of relations with Beijing a priority of his papacy. He sent a special letter to Catholics in China last year, praising the underground church, but also urging the faithful to reconcile with followers of the official church.

In the letter, the pope expressed hope that the yearly May celebration of the Virgin Mary would become a day when Chinese Catholics throughout the world were united in prayer for the church in China.

In the latest sign of a possible warming of relations between Beijing and the Holy See, the China Philharmonic Orchestra last week performed for Benedict in a landmark concert at the Vatican.