Ten facts you should know about the Chinese Marian shrine of Sheshan

  1. In China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, there are an estimated 50 to 70 million Christians, including 10 to 12 million Catholics, at least 38 million Protestants and roughly 15,000 Orthodox Christians. These are only estimates, however, and nobody knows the exact figure.
  2. Sheshan is a hill, roughly 35 km outside Shanghai. It is one of the most beloved pilgrimage sites for the country’s Catholics with several churches, including the Basilica of “Our Dear Lady of Sheshan”. A solemn celebration of “Our Lady of Sheshan, Help of Christians” is held there on 24 May each year.
  3. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI called on the Church across the whole world to pray for the Church in China on 24 May, and referred to the Marian shrine of Sheshan. He emphasised the significance of this place and encouraged the faithful worldwide to show their attachment to, and solidarity with, Chinese Christians.
  4. Pope Francis shares this concern and maintained Pope Benedict XVI’s initiative by calling for prayer for Chinese Catholics on this day. After his election, Francis received a small bronze statue of Our Lady of Sheshan from Cardinal John Tong, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong. Pope Francis placed this statue on his desk, as a constant reminder of China and to pray for this country.
  5. In 1863, the first Jesuit missionaries settled on the Hill of Sheshan. They built the first chapel on the summit. During the Tianjin massacre of missionaries and Chinese Christian converts in 1870, the superior of the Shanghai Jesuits went to Sheshan and said to Our Lady: “If the vicariate is spared from the attack, we will build a basilica and express our gratitude for the special protection of Our Lady.” The region was indeed spared.
  6. On 24 May 1871, in the presence of more than 6,000 people, Bishop Languillat of Shanghai laid the foundation stone of the Basilica and dedicated it to Mary, Help of Christians. Devotion to Our Lady of Sheshan spread.
  7. Exactly 100 years ago, in 1924, the bishops of China consecrated the country to Our Lady under the name of “Our Dear Lady of China, Queen of the Chinese People in Heaven”. Because of the great number of pilgrims, the basilica no longer had enough space for everyone. So, in 1925, the construction of a larger Marian basilica was begun, which was consecrated in 1935.
  8. The basilica has a 38-metre-high tower with a bronze statue of Our Lady. It portrays Our Lady holding up her son Jesus. Because of the outstretched arms of the child Jesus, from a distance the statue looks like a cross.
  9. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) the church was badly damaged. In 1981 it was given back to the Diocese of Shanghai and restored. More than 10,000 believers gifted the shrine a replica of the statue in the year 2000.
  10. Under Xi Jinping there has been a hardening of the state’s religious policy. Despite state restrictions and surveillance, every year in May thousands of pilgrims stream to Sheshan to pray to Our Lady. Pilgrims who climb the steep hill to the summit stop on the way by a statue of the suffering Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and at the 14 Stations of the Cross.

 

By Maria Lozano.

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