BY STAFF REPORTER THE DIOCESE of Hong Kong has cancelled a plan to send organised pilgrimages to China's most prominent Marian shrine next month for a special prayer day for Chinese Catholics after Shanghai government authorities said it would be inconvenient.
Cardinal Joseph Zen Zekiun of Hong Kong told the Asian Church news agency UCA News that the diocese planned the pilgrimages and a local novena in response to the call Pope Benedict XVI made last June in his letter to Catholics in China.
Shortly after the papal letter was released. Cardinal Zen led three sessions introducing it to local parishioners.
The Shanghai-born prelate initially told them he wanted to take 1,000 pilgrims to Sheshan for the prayer day on May 24, scheduled on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, the name of the parish at the Sheshan shrine.
Over the past months, however, Chinese authorities have conveyed concerns to the Vatican about the Hong Kong pilgrimage, Cardinal Zen said.
To ease their worries. the cardinal said he decided not to go on the pilgrimage and to have it organised on a smaller scale.
Cardinal Zen is known for publicly denouncing restrictions on Chinese Catholics by mainland authorities and for supporting direct elections in Hong Kong.
In late March the Shanghai diocese told Hong Kong officials that, due to security reasons and an expected huge crowd of mainland pilgrims at Sheshan, local authorities decided that May 24 was not a convenient day for Hong Kong Catholics to be there, although they were welcome on other dates.
, The diocese called off the pilgrimage earlier this month. "As it is not convenient for them, we don't want to push it," Cardinal Zen said, adding that individual priests and lay people could still proceed with their pilgrimage plans, but the Diocese of Hong Kong would not be the organiser.
Fr Dominic Chan Chiming, vicar general of the diocese and chief organiser of the pilgrimage, told UCA News that six pilgrimage tours had been planned since January, each with at least one priest to accompany each busload of pilgrims.
Different itineraries and routes were set, but all were to converge and celebrate a Mass in Cantonese at the Sheshan basilica May 24, he said.
The Marian month of May is a peak season for pilgrimages to Marian grottos in mainland China, and the May 24 day of prayer is expected to draw tens of thousands of pilgrims to Sheshan.