Shanghai (AsiaNews/UCAN) The Immaculate Conception Church, one of the oldest Catholic churches of the diocese of Shanghai, continues to draw the faithful, Chinese and Korean, despite its new location and form.
The older building, better known as Jinjiaxiang Church, was torn down in March 2001 and relocated a kilometre south-west of the original site in the new Pudong district.
Construction of the new church was completed in June 2004. The building can now welcome up to a thousand people.
For Fr Gong Tiande, the church's 67-year-old parish priest, the Immaculate Conception Church has become a bit of a 'Holy Land' for Korean Catholics because Martyr Saint Andrew Kim was ordained here on August 17, 1845.
After returning home a year later, the newly-ordained Andrew Kim was decapitated during a brutal wave of persecution against Catholics.
Pope John Paul II proclaimed him Saint in 1984 along with another 102 Korean martyrs.
The old Jinjiaxiang church erected a monument and installed a relic of the Saint for veneration making it a popular pilgrimage site for Korean Catholics.
Fr Kim Byung-soo, 44, who serves fellow Korean Catholics, hopes that the relic will be placed in the new chapel, which is shaped like a ship to symbolise the Saint's 1,300 miles sea voyage from Korea to Macau where he went for theological training.
During the building of the new church, the relic was moved to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in the same district ahead of the demolition of the old church.
The new church needs however the approval of religious affairs officials to get it back.
Last year the Saint Andrew Kim Chapel received approximately 30 groups from South Korea on pilgrimage tours.
During those visits, Father Kim celebrated mass for these pilgrims, and introduced them to the Saint's life and the history of Jinjiaxiang Church.
In May 2005, the first 'Month of Mary' since the church reopened, as many as 700 pilgrims a day were drawn from various provinces of China, Hong Kong, Korea, and Vietnam, and even from the United States, said Chen Linsheng, a lay Catholic.
The Jinjiaxiang Korean community currently has about 600 members, mostly Korean businessmen and their family members, but is growing. On July 3, two days before the anniversary of Saint Andrew Kim's beatification, it welcomed 24 new members.
In August Korean Catholics will celebrate the 160th anniversary of the Saint's ordination.
The Pope approved a decree attesting to the heroic virtue. Together with St Andrew Kim Dae-gon, he entered the seminary in Macao in 1836. After his ordination he returned home and, despite the persecution of the Joseon kingdom, cared for about 4 thousand faithful spread throughout the peninsula. He translated catechism books from Chinese and put Catholic teaching to verse to foster learning. He died consumed by the mission in 1861.