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(LifeSiteNews) – On May 24, the feast of Mary Help of Christians, the Church will offer prayers of intercession for persecuted Chinese Christians on the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

The day was established in 2007, by Pope Benedict XVI in a letter to the Church in the People’s Republic of China. Then last year, Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, called on Catholics to expand the day into a week of prayer.

To promote this week of prayer, the lay group Global Prayer for China was formed. The group established the Global Week of Prayer for China, which received widespread support from bishops and world leaders. This year the Week of Prayer begins Sunday, May 22, ending Sunday, May 29.

In a statement on May 14, Bo again raised his voice in strong condemnation of the Communist Chinese Party’s disregard of basic political, human, and religious freedoms. Lamenting the recent increased persecution of the Church unfold in China, in particular in Hong Kong – “a city that was a beacon for freedom, including religious freedom” – the cardinal declared:

Hong Kong used to be one of Asia’s freest and most open cities. Today, it has been transformed into a police state. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association, and academic freedom have all been dismantled. There are early signs that freedom of religion or belief, a human right set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party, is threatened. I am aware of recent propaganda attacks against the Church in pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong, and of growing self-censorship among religious leaders due to the circumstances. To see a city that was a beacon for freedom, including religious freedom, move so radically and swiftly down a much darker and more repressive path is heartbreaking. To see a government in China break its promises made in an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, so repeatedly and blatantly, is appalling.

Drawing attention to last week’s arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen, who is scheduled to appear in court on May 24, for charges leveled by the Security Police, Bo wrote:

My brother Cardinal, His Eminence Joseph Zen, was arrested and faces charges simply because he served as a trustee of a fund which provided legal aid to activists facing court cases. In any system where the rule of law exists, providing assistance to help people facing prosecution meet their legal fees is a proper and accepted right. How can it be a crime to help accused persons have legal defence and representation?

The cardinal reiterated his call to all Christians to pray for the persecuted Church in China, suggesting that votive Masses in honor of Mary Help of Christians be offered on her feast day, May 24:

This year I urge Christians of all traditions everywhere to pray for Hong Kong especially, and the Church in China, as well as the Uyghurs, Tibetans and others facing persecution in China, during that Week of Prayer, and to pray especially for Cardinal Zen on 24 May itself as we seek the prayers of Mary Help of Christians. Where possible, churches might consider a votive Mass on this day.

The following is an excerpt from a prayer to Our Lady Help of Christians, whom Chinese Catholics venerate at the ancient Marian Shrine of Sheshan.

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother, venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title “Help of Christians”, the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection. We come before you today to implore your protection. Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China, who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love. May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world, and of the world to Jesus.

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