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Pope: Catholics have ‘duty’ to pray for China today

While Pope Benedict frequently invites Catholics to pray for particular causes, he has made a unique, official appeal for the Church in China. Speaking at the General Audience last Wednesday, he said that “all Catholics throughout the world have a duty to pray for the Church in China: those members of the faithful have a right to our prayers, they need our prayers.”

In 2007, the Pope inaugurated the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China. Celebrated today, May 24th, it coincides with the memorial to Our Lady, Help of Christians. Pilgrims travel from throughout China to venerate her in Shanghai at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan.

Developments in China add urgency to the prayer request. AsiaNews reports that the Chinese government has restricted access to the shrine and that underground priests have been taken away by security forces.

PRAYER OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO OUR LADY OF SHESHAN
ON THE OCCASION OF THE WORLD DAY OF PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH IN CHINA

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.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said “yes” in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously cooperated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, who died that we might live.

From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in his footsteps by taking up his Cross.
Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

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.
In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and for ever. Amen!

Afghan government frees Christian convert

For Said Musa, being publicly exposed as a Christian condemned him to death row. Yet his testimony of faith, spread throughout the world, may have also helped secure his liberation.

As we reported on the S+L Blog and Perspectives, Musa worked for the Red Cross in Afghanistan when, due to a local television report, he was outed as a Christian convert. He was consequently convicted for apostasy, which carries the death penalty. As reports circulated that Musa’s execution was imminent, Archbishop Brendan O’Brien (writing on behalf of the Canadian bishops’ Human Rights Committee) urged Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to intervene. A spokesperson declared that Canada had raised its concern about Musa’s case with the Afghan government. The statement reiterated Canada’s insistence that Afghanistan uphold religious freedom.

Now an organization working on Musa’s behalf reports that he has been released. The International Christian Concern credits “aggressive international diplomacy” that included prison visits by representatives of the Italian and American embassies.

“It has been encouraging to see the international community, including churches, reporters and government officials in Europe and North America, work together for the common goal of freeing Said,” says Aidan Clay, an ICC representative.

Citing a letter from Musa written before his release, Clay says that Musa declined an earlier offer to be freed on the condition that he renounce his faith. The ICC’s source claims that he is now safely out of the country.

The New York Times confirmed Musa’s release with the director of the prison where he was held. A senior prosecutor involved with the case told the NYT that, ultimately, Musa told the high court that he regretted converting to Christianity and wished to return to Islam. Whether or not Musa actually made such an admission, the appearance of one might appease those within the government who demanded his execution. The courts could have justified his release because, as CNN reports, apostasy is not a criminal act in the Afghan constitution. In such cases, the judge then turns to sharia law, where he has “an open hand” in determining the verdict.

Musa’s wife, who fled to Pakistan with their children, says that she has yet to hear from her husband. She speculates that he may have taken refuge in a foreign embassy.

Christianity Today is asking why Musa’s case was able to generate media attention, while other similar cases have not. One of the reasons listed was Musa’s heroic testimony of faith. His emotional appeal, handwritten from prison in imperfect English, may have elicited just enough of an international outcry to prompt his release.