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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is calling faithful across the world to be "spiritually united" with Chinese Catholics.
On Thursday, the Pontiff dedicated morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta to the "noble Chinese people" who, he acknowledged, are enduring many "difficulties."
May 24, the Feast of Mary Help of Christians, is celebrated in China as the Feast of Our Lady of Sheshan. It is a special day for Chinese Catholics. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed May 24 the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, composing a special prayer through the intercession of Our Lady of Sheshan.
"Dearest disciples of the Lord in China," he added, "the universal Church prays with you and for you, so that even amid difficulties you may continue to entrust yourselves to the will of God. Our Lady will never fail to help you and will safeguard you with her maternal love."
The Pontiff prayed that "all" Chinese Catholics "may live their faith with generosity and serenity, and so that they can make concrete gestures of fraternity, concord and reconciliation, in full communion with the Successor of Peter."
Pope Francis' plea for "all" Chinese Catholics comes amid a Vatican push to normalize diplomatic ties between Rome and Beijing by replacing faithful, underground Catholic bishops with excommunicated "bishops" of China's so-called "Patriotic Catholic Church," a schismatic, Communist-backed government body.
It follows Communist moves to tighten the Party's grip over religion. In a major power shift in March, Beijing transferred responsibility for religious affairs from the state bureaucracy to the Communist Party, giving leaders direct control over the government-approved "Catholic" Church, along with its bishops and doctrines.
Faithful Chinese Catholics, including Hong Kong Cdl. Joseph Zen, have denounced the Vatican push. Cardinal Zen has accused the Holy See of "selling out" the Catholic Church in China, arguing that Rome is actively working against the country's faithful, underground Catholic Church and describing the plan as "suicide" for the Church in China.
As part of the Communist drive for greater control, it has launched a series of repressive measures, including banning anyone under 18 from attending Mass or other Catholic religious events. In their effort at "sinicization," or remolding the Faith to make it more "Chinese," Party officials have bulldozed churches, toppled belltowers, torn down crucifixes and defiled holy images.
Francis' address also comes amid new research showing the Communists have not only assaulted the Catholic Church in China from the outside, but also from within.
On May 21, UCA News published the first of three articles spotlighting the research of Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, Director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Ying has studied historical records documenting the infiltration of Christian churches by Communist Party operatives.
At a recent seminar in Hong Kong, he spoke on seven written directives from July 1950 outlining Communist Party policies on Christianity.
One section, titled "Party Members Who Are Religious Believers," detailed the Communist plan for "faithful and reliable party members" to serve as spies, working undercover inside the country's Christian churches and funneling information back to Communist authorities.
Ying revealed that this policy of infiltration began years before Communist leader Mao Zedong seized control of China in 1949, and accelerated after the dictatorship was established.
"In the CCP's eyes, even after they got control over the whole country, fighting against Christianity still needed to be continued," Ying said.
According to UCA News:
Ying explained that the CCP had wanted to keep underground party members in churches so that, in the eyes of the government, they could be controlled and reformed. This had especially been the case in the 1950s with the so-called three-self movement when covert party members took leading roles under the guise of being pastors or holding other church positions.
It noted further, "The concept was later manipulated by the Communist Party as a 'patriotic' church."