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The Salesian Family praying to Mary Help of Christians for China



The Salesian Family praying to Mary Help of Christians for China

My Dear Confreres, Sisters Daughters of Mary help of Christians, all the Members of the Salesian Family,
I send you my heartfelt greetings on this Solemnity of  Pentecost, calling  down on you the supreme gift of the Risen Lord: the Holy Spirit. May He make us aware of our dignity as sons and daughters of God, make us strong in the struggle against personal and social evil, make us ready to work together to build God’s Kingdom.

On this occasion there naturally comes to mind the scene described by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. After the Ascension of the Lord, they were gathered together awaiting the effusion of the Spirit: “With one heart all these [the Apostles] joined constantly in prayer together with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers” (1:14).That is how I like the think of the Salesian Family, made up of apostles gathered around Mary, skilled in the Spirit, who teaches us how to wait for Him, welcome Him and allow ourselves to be guided by Him.

Our times seem to us complicated and difficult. But when were the times ever easy? We can say rather that the difficult  times are the times of Mary, the strong woman, the woman of tested faith, the caring mother and courageous guide. Don Bosco had an intuition of this when in times that were calamitous and fraught with difficulties and obstacles for the Church, he  recommended devotion to the Auxilium Christianorum as the anchor of salvation for believers and the source of spiritual life for his boys, and for their educators.

The Holy Father Benedict, with a happy intuition reminds us of this today as he presents the Virgin Mary Help of Christians as the mother to invoke so that the Church in China may overcome the demanding challenges  that it is facing: reconciliation and unity for a divided Community, overcoming the humiliating controls by the  government and the concession of true freedom of religion. The  Pope asks Chinese Catholics to entrust themselves to Her, the Help of Christians venerated at the sanctuary of Sheshan, near Shanghai, and invites Catholics throughout the world to be united  on the 24 May each year in a day of prayer for the Church in China.

Dear Pastors and all the faithful, the date 24 May […]  is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.
I would like that date to be kept by you as a day of prayer for the Church in China. I encourage you to celebrate it by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible […]
On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world – in particular those who are of Chinese origin – will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness […]” [1]

The Sanctuary of Sheshan (Zose’ in the dialect of Shanghai) is close to the heart of the Salesian Family. Devotion to Mary Help of Christians grew there, one might say, contemporaneously with the development of the same devotion at Valdocco. It was on 1 March 1868 that the first modest chapel-oratory was opened on the top of the hill of  Sheshan, just when Don Bosco announced for the following 9 June the opening of the church he had built in Turin. And while the growing number of graces obtained through the intercession of Mary Help of Christians was being recorded in Valdocco, popular pilgrimages began at Sheshan in the month of May and especially on the 24th, which in the following years attracted as many as 10,000-15,000 faithful. So the Chinese faithful too enjoyed the powerful intercession of the Virgin Help of Christians from the beginning of their expressions of faith and veneration at the small sanctuary dedicated to Her, as Don Bosco himself noted when he referred to graces received there in May1869:


The name of Mary Help of Christians now gloriously resounds even in the most distant countries. China is one of these. It would seem that God wants to draw the whole world to Himself by means of the miracles worked on behalf of unbelievers through the intercession of his divine Mother...

On 24 May 1871 the building began at Sheshan of a new large sanctuary, in fulfilment of a vow made the previous year by the Superior of the Mission, if the Virgin Help of Christians were to protect the mission from the attacks of the  Taiping armed rebels.


In 1924 at Shanghai the First Synod of the Chinese Church was held. Among the Synod Fathers was also the Vicar Apostolic of  Shiuchow, Bishop Luigi Versiglia. The Synod, held at the wishes of the Pope and promoted by the first Apostolic Delegate in China, Bishop Celso Costantini, promised to be the opening of a new era , launching the process of the transition from being mission territory to the building up of a real local Church. At the birth of the Chinese Church presided Mary who was invoked by the Synod Fathers under the title of Help of Christians, at the conclusion of the prayer for the consecration of China.


The first Salesians who arrived in Shanghai in 1924 and the boys from the St Joseph Hospice were to go the Sanctuary of Sheshan in pilgrimage, or for the retreat, as the cleric Callisto Caravario[3] described in his letters to his mother. It is there too that the youngsters, the clerics and the Superiors will go as refugees to Shanghai during the war, in the golden age of Salesian work in China. [4] To the Virgin of Sheshan with hope and profound faith the Chinese Salesians condemned to long hard years in prison and re-education through work will turn their gaze...

According to the chronicles of the FMA in China, on 18 May 1947 the whole community of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Shanghai, sisters, postulants, aspirants, daughters of Mary and youngsters 60 people in all, crammed in a truck will take part in a splendid event for Church and for the Diocese: the crowning of the Help of Christians at  Zo Ze (She Shan).


With the same faith with which Don Bosco attributed everything to Mary Help of Christians, and accepting the humble observation of  Fr Luigi Versiglia who reminded his missionaries that “without Mary Help of Christians we Salesians are nothing,” we entrust to Her this land dreamed of and yearned for by our Father.

Prayer Intentions for the Novena of Mary Help of Christians
I should like to invite each SDB, FMA community, those of the other congregations and institutes belonging to the Salesian Family and every Centre of the Salesians-Cooperators or Past Pupils to make the novena in the way they consider the most appropriate, adding each day a different prayer intention for the Church in China.

15 May: for the Bishops of China
May they be shining signs of communion and unity, zealous pastors and animators of the church community and untiring promoters of the work of evangelisation among non-believers.

16 May: for Priests

May they be guides of the people of God through the example of an evangelical life and the witness of their attachment to the Apostolic See.

17 May: for Religious women

May they be witnesses to the values of consecrated life, to the Kingdom already present among the people of God, and ardent flames of charity, contemplatives in action.

18 May: for Seminarians and for Vocations

May they be faithful to the call of the Divine Master, ready to serve the world without being of the world.

19 May: for the “official”’ Catholic Communities

May they know how to carry out the mission entrusted to them “giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” but without compromising what belongs to God and to his Church.

20 May: for the “underground” Catholic Communities

May they be aware of the significance of the decision to be underground, without ever closing themselves off from the official  communities, but seeking to be the promoters of reconciliation and unity, in charity and in the truth.

21 May: for the Chinese Government

May it be ever more open to the values and respect for human lefts; not be afraid of Christ and commit itself to building  harmony e permitting everyone to live and practise their faith in peace.

22 May: for the Catholic Faithful

May they be aware that they can be good citizens striving to be true Christians; may they commit themselves more and more to spreading moral values and the gospel among their many fellow citizens who do not yet know Christ.

23 May: for young people

May they not allow themselves captivated by materialism, by consumerism, by  individualism; may they strive to live according to ideals that can build a society that is more just and respectful towards all  values including religious ones.

24 May: it would be good to recite the prayer for China that Pope Benedict XVI may write or the “Prayer to Mary Help of Christians for China”  distributed some time ago and reproduced here:



Virgin most holy, Help of Christians,
Mother of Christ, Patroness and Guide for China,
intercede for the Church, for the Chinese People and the Youth
entrusted to your motherly care.

Fill all with
the desire to know the Father’s loving plan,
the courage to accept Christ’s Gospel,
the willingness to grow in the Holy Spirit.

Keep all kinds of evil far from your children.
Defend them from the dangers of materialism and religious indifference.
Raise up holy vocations among them,
faithful to the service of God’s Kingdom.

Grant us, too,  waiting in trust
for the miracles our father Don Bosco foresaw,
the same deep faith as his,
the same passion and thirst for souls.

Make us faithful to our charism
and to our preference for
poor and abandoned youth.
Give us courage to dream,
boldness in daring, wisdom in loving deeds,
perseverance in giving our all for the mission,
and purity of life which reflects your own.

You, who at Cana hastened your Son’s Hour,
be as anxious now to show your motherly care,
and bring your people a speedy revealing of freedom,
peace and joy in listening to your Son.

I conclude assuring you of a special remembrance on the Solemnity of Mary Help of Christians  in her Basilica, a Valdocco. May She continue to be for us mother and teacher, as She was for Don Bosco.

Rome, 11 May 2008

Fr. Pascual Chávez Villanueva, SDB
Rector Major

[1] Benedict XVI, Letter to the Catholics in the Chinese Peoples’ Republic, Vatican City, 27 May 2007.
[2] John Bosco, Nine days consecrated to the august Mother of the Saviour under the title of Mary Help of Christians, Turin, The Press of the  Oratory of St. Francis of Sales 1870, in OE XXII, p. [333-334]