Beijing (Agenzia Fides) - To know the Church in China, which has never forgotten Fr. Theophiel Verbist (1823 - 1868) and forge new relationships of missionary collaboration; to recall the 150th anniversary of the death of Father Verbist himself, their founder; and re-launch the new mission of evangelization in China: these are the reasons that led to a qualified representation of the missionaries of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, CICM (better known as "Scheut missionaries") to make a pilgrimage to the People's Republic of China. The pilgrimage, led by superior general Fr. Charles Phukuta took place from June 2 to 8 and was organized by the Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation and touched 4 dioceses where members of the Scheut Congregation carried out their work of proclaiming the Gospel in the past.
In different forms, the Congregation of the Scheut continues today to support the spiritual life of the Catholic communities scattered in those dioceses. The Scheut missionaries participating in the pilgrimage - in which some Claretian religious also took part - met priests and faithful of the local communities, sharing with them the intention of continuing in the footsteps of Father Verbist, finding comfort and inspiration in his essentially Marian spirituality. The participants in the pilgrimage journey also paid homage to the tomb of the great Jesuit Matteo Ricci in Beijing, concelebrating some masses in various churches and local communities as sign of communion, as for example in the diocese of Wu Meng ( today Ji Ning), in Inner Mongolia, which was once one of the "strongholds" of the Scheut missionary presence. "We must safeguard and nourish our unity in the one faith", said Fr. Phukuta in his homilies, recalling repeatedly the "kinship between the Congregation and China" and promising the utmost commitment to perpetuate this long-standing friendship. Also the spirituality of charity of Fr. Verbist was proposed again by the superior general of the Scheut, with the hope that it can always be a gift and a model in the growth of ecclesial life in China.
Father Theophiel Verbist founded the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1862 in Anderlecht (Belgium), with a vocation to contribute to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel in the mission of evangelization in China and in the Far Eastern countries. He arrived in China in 1865 together with other confreres. He died in Lao Hu Gou (He Bei province) on February 23, 1868, at the age of 44. Since 1865, 250 Scheut missionaries died and were buried in China, after having dedicated their lives to witnessing Jesus Christ among the Chinese people. Today, the CICM missionaries continue their missionary work in China, Mongolia, the Philippines and in several African countries. (NZ) (Agenzia Fides, 22/6/2018)