VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Pope Francis on Friday tweeted a prayer for Catholics in China on the feast day of the Virgin of Sheshan in Shanghai and celebrated mass before a group of Chinese Catholics in the Vatican.
“On the feast of Mary Help of Christians I join the Catholics in China who trust in the protection of Our Lady of Sheshan and I pray for them,” he wrote.
Francis on Wednesday prayed for Catholics around the world to pray for Chinese faithful and asked them to be loyal to the papacy — a major bone of contention between the Vatican and China.
Monsignor Savio Hon Tai-Fai, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the only Chinese representative in the Roman Curia, also attended the pope’s Friday mass.
“May the Lord bless the noble Chinese people,” the pope said at the mass in front of around 20 priests, seminarians and lay Chinese Catholics in the chapel of his residence in the Vatican.
Chinese Catholics number 5.7 million according to official data and 12 million according to independent sources and are divided between an official Church dependent on Communist authorities and an “underground” Church loyal to the Vatican.
Catholics loyal to Rome face many obstacles, although there is no longer official persecution.
Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI tried to build better relations with China with little success.