China Pilgrimage Series: Our Lady of Graces in Bansishan

Recently, my oldest son and I returned from a pilgrimage and mission trip to the People’s Republic of China. I hope to share (in a series of posts in the coming weeks) some of what we saw and experienced.

Shanxi Province 

IMG_2067The capital city of Taiyuan is approximately 514 km west of the city of Beijing, with a population of 4 million (source: Wikipedia), and seat to the Archdiocese of Taiyuan and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (source: UCANews).

Relative to other provinces in China, the treatment of the Catholic Church there is somewhat more relaxed. For example, there is very little distinction between that “above-ground” Patriotic Association Church and the otherwise “underground” Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

One small clue that this is so can be found in the picture below, outside the Cathedral. A great many churches in China are obscured by a wall or have some barrier between them and the facing street. Here, however, the very short fence is used to stand posters about the teachings of Catholicism, and on the public sidewalk there were two tables, with stools and umbrellas, with an array of Catholic tracts for passers-by.

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Bansishan 

One of two official pilgrimage sites in the Archdiocese of Taiyuan is Our Lady of Grace Portiuncula Basilica on Bansishan (a mountain). (Source: UCANews). Approximately 100 km north of Taiyuan and 1760 meters above sea level, pilgrims access the Basilica by ascending a winding narrow dirt road that is punctuated by Stations of the Cross monuments carved in stone. (Source: UCANews).

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According to local tradition, Mary appeared at Bansishan in 1783 and opened the eyes of a blind child. A Franciscan bishop built a church on the site, and another Franciscan bishop later rebuilt it. (Source: UCANews).

IMG_2106While many pilgrims, particularly the local Chinese Catholics, make their 10 km ascent to the Basilica on foot, we made our way aboard a small bus that gasped and choked from overheat when we arrived. I’m glad that I didn’t know that at least once before a coach loaded with pilgrims has overturned on the rugged road, but miraculously, passengers received only minor injuries. (Source: UCANews).

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Atop the mountain sits the Basilica. Thousands of pilgrims make their way there on August 2 each year to receive the “Portiuncula Indulgence”. This year, for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the doors of the Basilica have been designated as one of nine holy doors within the Archdiocese. When they were first opened on January 13, “more than 10,000 Catholics, coming on foot or in long lines of vehicles braved the freezing weather of minus 16 degrees Celsius at the pilgrimage site.” (Source: Sunday Examiner).

While the government of the Shanxi Province treats the Church more diffidently than elsewhere in China, it’s not as though Bansishan hasn’t been through its share of upheavals. In 1966, it was demolished by the Red Guards. It was rebuilt beginning in 1988. (Source: sacredarchitecture.org). As recently as 2008, the local government has interfered with pilgrims making their way to the shrine. On May 24 of that year, “thousands of police” blocked the access road to stop the pilgrims from reaching the Basilica, who were forced to return home. “According to eyewitnesses, the police forces greatly outnumbered the pilgrims.” (Source: asianews).

IMG_2120Further up the mountain, which we hiked, is a rosary garden currently under construction, as well as a golden statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the crest. While atop the mountain, at the foot of the Sacred Heart statue, our pilgrimage group prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before we wended our way back down the mountain for our return to Taiyuan.

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A culling of links

14768069492_581f144c67_oIt’s been a busy few weeks/months. Lots and lots of work. And then a whole array of new church activities. I pray for you, the readers of this blog, and I hope that you have all received many blessings, joys and consolations from Our Lord. Anyway, I’ve got enough time to provide some of the links I’ve been meaning to share here:

Much more to follow in coming weeks and months, as soon as time permits! Hopefully your Easter Season was fruitful, and may you receive many graces from the upcoming Feast of the Most Holy Trinity!

Vatican daily “L’Osservatore Romano” announces new recycling initiative

Rome (Vatican City) – For nearly 155 years, the “semi-official” daily newspaper of the Vatican city-state, “L’Osservatore Romano”, has printed papal discourses, statements, and news of appointments and audiences in its pages. Over the years, in addition to daily issues printed in Italian, the paper has added weeklies in such languages as English, French, German and Portuguese.

All of that adds up to a lot of paper, and particularly since the release of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si’, questions have swirled within the editorial offices of the newspaper concerning whether it can continue to print without regard for its “eco-footprint”.

Shortly after the Holy Father issued his encyclical, current L’Osservatore editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian began to fret. “Suddenly we have a Pope who cares about the environment, and a news outlet that looks entirely like an anachronism, with its newsprint and Latin motto. Then (on 27 June 2015) we get the motu proprio establishing a new Secretariat for Communications that will eventually absorb L’Osservatore Romano. The optics of this situation matter a great deal.”

According to Vian, the Pope appointed as new Prefect of the Secretariat for Communications none other than Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, “who hates paper.” Ever since his appointment in 2013 to be Director of the Vatican Television Center, “…it’s been nothing but ‘digital’ this and ‘new media’ that. History and tradition means nothing to the likes of him.”

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L’Osservatore Romano plan for “newspaper-only” recycling bins within St. Peter’s Square, the first of several locations throughout the Vatican city-state

So functionaries at L’Osservatore wasted no time in infiltrating Casa Santa Martae and embedding themselves “as cafeteria workers” who could discretely pass Pope Francis their idea, unhindered by papal handlers. The plan: recycling bins in St. Peter’s Square, circling the two granite fountains.

According to Vian, it was “This [the bins], or getting rid of the German weekly,” which he admitted no one actually reads but continues to enjoy a “cult following” due to its use for lining the cages of the birds of “high-ranking” clerics.

“Our big break happened one day in January of this year when the Holy Father accidentally dropped the panna cotta on his lunch tray as he was leaving the cafeteria line to join a group of youth from Brazil for lunch at a nearby table. One of our operatives quickly grabbed a new dessert from the line and brought it to Pope Francis, along with a copy of our proposal and a sketch that demonstrates the new bins,” said Vian.

Days later, recounts Vian, “the second assistant to Pope Francis called the offices of L’Osservatore to tell us that the Holy Father had seen the proposal and wanted the recycling bins placed at once, and preferably before the ‘Easter rush’.”

And, soon “we’ll have secured permission for placement of the bins at other major locations, including around the baldacchino inside the basilica, and within the Sistine Chapel.”

Thanks to another Vatican innovation, the future of L’Osservatore is again secure, “for weeks or months, at least.”

Poem for Holy Saturday: Limbo

Limbo

The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
“He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon.”

A murmurous excitement stirred all souls.
they wondered if they dreamed-
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses’ words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed

Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water
Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.

And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung.
None toned a psalm, or raising a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue-
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
“How is your Mother,
How is your Mother, Son?”

-Sister Mary Ada
The Reign Of Mary -Vol. XXV, No 76

Pange lingua gloriosi

Of the glorious Body telling,
O my tongue, its mysteries sing,
and the Blood, all price excelling,
which the world’s eternal King,
in a noble womb once dwelling
shed for the world’s ransoming.

Given for us, descending,
of a Virgin to proceed,
man with man in converse blending,
scattered he the Gospel seed,
till his sojourn drew to ending,
which he closed in wondrous deed.

At the last great Supper lying
circled by his brethren’s band,
meekly with the law complying,
first he finished its command
then, immortal Food supplying,
gave himself with his own hand.

Word made Flesh, by word he maketh
very bread his Flesh to be;
man in wine Christ’s Blood partaketh:
and if senses fail to see,
faith alone the true heart waketh
to behold the mystery.

Therefore we, before him bending,
this great Sacrament revere;
types and shadows have their ending,
for the newer rite is here;
faith, our outward sense befriending,
makes the inward vision clear.

Glory let us give, and blessing
to the Father and the Son;
honor, might and praise addressing,
while eternal ages run;
ever too his love confessing,
who, from both, with both is one.

********
Words: Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274);
trans. John Mason Neale, Edward Caswall and others;
as in The English Hymnal, 1906
Music: Pange lingua gloriosi

Meter: 87 87 87

Apple is Making Recycling Cool

There was an Apple Event on Monday to announce a new, smaller iPhone and a new, smaller (or same size, depending on perspective) iPad Pro. Scanning through the keynote from the event, this caught my interest:

According to MacRumors, “Liam” can take down an iPhone every 11 seconds. Currently there is the prototype located in Cupertino, and a second robot being installed in Europe. Assuming zero “downtime”, a single “Liam” can process 2,866,909 iPhones per year. That’s a small number considering that 215 million iPhones were sold in 2015. But, cool nonetheless.

Coolness aside, we’ve got to stop “personifying” non-humans. It’s getting creepy. Siri, Cortana, Liam. Let’s not.