Sheshan’s shrine is closed but its amusement park is open, like other tourist spots
by Lu Haitao
In observance of the local government’s pandemic health measures, the diocese of Shanghai cancelled all pilgrimages in May. Msgr. Taddeo Ma Daqin remains under house arrest in the seminary. In Sheshan, the “Valley of Happiness” park and the Golf club are always open. Churches still subject to stringent anti-Covid measures, but for Qingming, tourist spots in China have welcomed tens of thousands of visitors without problems.
Shanghai (AsiaNews) – The Catholic diocese of Shanghai has announced that pilgrimages to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan will be cancelled in May due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other hand, the amusement park on Sheshan Hill has been open for some time, as have many mass tourist spots in the country.
The shrine of Sheshan is a national Marian shrine and in the month of May there is a tradition from the various Chinese dioceses to go on pilgrimage walking up the hill on which the basilica stands, stopping in the intermediate chapels and marking the stations of the Cross, up to the summit where the church stands, crowned by the statue of Mary presenting her Son to the world.
According to the diocesan announcement, “as the pandemic at home and abroad is still not under control, and measures for the prevention of the pandemic are still in place in the nation, to comply with the demands and regulations of the [Shanghai] municipal government … The annual May pilgrimage to Sheshan has been cancelled”.
The announcement explains that the Sheshan basilica, the intermediate chapels and other areas are closed and there will be no pilgrimages and religious activities. The presence of groups of pilgrims and individuals are not allowed. Catholics are advised to stay home and pray asking for an end to the pandemic, so that they can return to normal life.
Throughout China, places of worship have been gradually reopened in many provinces since March and community religious practice has resumed. Despite strict health measures, many Catholic churches have also reopened and masses are again being celebrated with the live participation of faithful. In Beijing, Shanghai and other provinces, the reopening was enthusiastically announced, although the closure continues in some parts of the country.
In many dioceses – for example in Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Inner Mongolia – the reopening coincided with the celebrations of Holy Week: the mass in Coena Domini with the ceremony of the washing of the feet; the Via Crucis; baptisms of catechumens at Easter; the distribution of Easter eggs.
The announcement of the closure of the Sheshan national shrine does not appeal to many Catholics. In May, especially on the occasion of the feast of Mary, help of Christians (May 24), the sacred place attracts tens of thousands of faithful and tourists.
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI composed a special prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan to ask for protection for the Church in China. At the behest of the Pope himself, from May 24, 2008 onwards, the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China is celebrated.
Since 2012, the bishop of Shanghai, Msgr. Taddeo Ma Daqin has been under house arrest for daring to resign from the Patriotic Association immediately after his episcopal ordination. Although he later returned to the Association, the government does not recognize him as the bishop of the diocese and the faithful have no opportunity to meet him. His blog hasn’t been updated since 2018 and his Weibo (Chinese Twitter) profile is blocked.
As a result of the pandemic, since 2020, the Shanghai authorities closed the entire area of the Sheshan basilica, along with the astronomical observatory located on the hill. Other corners of the landscape remained open to the public.
It is striking that Sheshan is only allowed to welcome paying tourists . What the faithful called “the valley of tears” has been transformed into an amusement park called the “Valley of Happiness”. It has parking for at least 5,000 vehicles and will be open in May. Sheshan Golf Club will also be open for wealthy tourists. The sanctuary no.
Discrimination against Catholics and the faithful of other religions was evident during Holy Week, which coincided with the Chinese festival of Qingming (April 4, the visit to the tombs of the dead). While many churches and temples have to put up with very strict anti-Covid rules, many tourist spots in China have welcomed tens of thousands of tourists without any measures in place (see photo 2-4, from Caixin).