Shanghai (AsiaNews) â€“In a Christmas pastoral letter Msgr. Aloysius Jin Luxian officially opened celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Catholicism in Shanghai. He invites the faithful of the diocese to a spiritual renewal and asks them not to "let Benedict XVI down", who in his Letter to China's faithful, invited Catholics to make May 24th â€“ feast of the sanctuary of Our Lady of Sheshan, which lies within the diocesan territory â€“ a World Day of Prayer for the Church and China.
The pastoral letter which was published on December 24th last, begins by outlining the history of Catholicism in Shanghai.
It all began with the conversion and baptism of Xu Guangqi, a Shanghai mandarin who worked for the Emperor in Beijing. There he became a friend of the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci and was baptised. In 1608 Paul Xu returned to Shanghai for his father`s funeral and invited Italian Jesuit Father Lazare Cattaneo to preach to his family. After they all eventually received baptism, the priest, who was based in nearby Nanjing, baptized 200 others, and more Jesuits were sent to Shanghai in eastern China, giving birth to the first nuclease of the Church there.
Msgr. Jin recalls that , another Italian Jesuit, Father Francesco Brancati, baptized 2,300 people here. He died in southern China but was buried in a Catholic cemetery in Shanghai that would host hundreds of missioners` graves in following centuries. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), these graves were desecrated.
The bishop asks the faithful to "not forget the missionaries" because they have made an enormous contribution to local arts and sciences including astrology and medicine. Thanks to the Jesuits and other missionaries, Shanghai enjoyed advanced education through schools universities libraries, art galleries, astronomic and meteorological observatories, hospitals where modern medicine was practised.
In a departure from the official Communist interpretation â€“ which considers missionaries as agents of western colonialism â€“ Msgr. Jin underlines that already 400 years ago Those missioners were already using enculturation in their approach to evangelization and were training the laity to manage their churches.
In the second part of his letter, the prelate sets out some guidelines to render evangelisation more dynamic in the diocese. ""Evangelization is the work of all Catholics," he said, urging his flock not to focus merely on the sacraments and charitable works. Msgr. Jin affirms that today, there are about 150,000 Shanghai Catholics compared to 100,000 before the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, but Protestants have grown from 30,000 to more than 200,000 during the same period.
In a Chinese world where interest in religions and in Christianity has grown, Catholics must use all means at their disposal to witness their faith: churches must be kept open in the daytime for worshippers and visitors (usually, in China they are only opened for religious services â€“ ed). Religious personnel should welcome and share their faith with visitors, he urged, lamenting that some priests and nuns would rather spend time watching television or on the Internet.
Concluding, Msgr. Jin referred to Pope Benedict`s Letter asking Catholics worldwide to pray for the China Church on May 24, feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians and Our Lady of Sheshan. "As Shanghai Catholics [Shesahn lies circa 30 km outside Shanghai â€“ ed], we feel honoured. We thank our pope, but feel pressured.". The prelate said he anticipates many foreign Catholics will visit the Sheshan shrine this year, and he urged local Catholics to show them hospitality.
Bishop Jin also recalled how Archbishop Celso Costantini, the first apostolic delegate to China, summoned the First Catholic Synod of China in Shanghai in 1924 and led the bishops to dedicate the Church in China to Our Lady of Sheshan.
Encouraging his flock to pray to Mary and the foreign missionary-saints, Bishop Jin concluded "We will not let the Holy Father down".