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Police Bar Pilgrims from Honoring
Our Lady in Dong Lu

Margaret Galitzin
Every year, throughout the month of May, the Chinese government sends extra police forces to lock down the village of Dong Lu in Hebei, a few hours drive from Beijing. Officers sitting in blue tents erected as checkpoints on access roads stop every car and force most travelers, including reporters, to turn back. (1)

Their sole aim is to prevent Catholic pilgrims from participating in ceremonies to honor Our Lady of Dong Lu, also known as Our Lady of China. The village - with roughly 10,000 residents - is 90% Catholic, strongly devoted to the Virgin Mary and fiercely loyal to the Underground Catholic Church vs. the government-run Chinese Patriotic Association.

Our Lady of China

Dong Lu has been a pilgrimage site since 1900, when the Virgin Mary appeared as a beautiful Lady in white surrounded by light in the sky. She protected the villagers from an attack by 10,000 soldiers during the Boxer rebellion, which targeted Catholics in their massacres. The soldiers fired at the apparition, but to no avail, so they fled in fright.

A painting of Our Lady of Du Long, Our Lady of China

A copy of what is believed to be the original painting of Our Lady of Dong Lu

The apparition of Our Lady of Dong Lu was approved by the local Bishop and a church was built at the site where Our Lady had appeared. The parish priest commissioned a painting of Our Lady in the royal robes of an Empress with the Christ Child on her knees, which became known as Our Lady of Dong Lu. At the first nationl conference of Bishops in Shanghai in 1924, this image was chosen to be called 'Our Lady Queen of China.'

In 1928, Pope Pius XI approved the apparition and promulgated the image. In 1932 he approved Dong Lu as an official Marian shrine, and in 1941 Pope Pius XII added the feast day Our Lady of China to the Catholic liturgical calendar.

The site became a popular pilgrimage site, especially on May 24, the feast day of Our Lady Help of Christians.

In 1995, more than 50,000 Catholics of the Underground Church gathered on that day at Dong Lu to honor Our Lady of China. During a Mass in an open field outside the shrine, the crowd noted a miraculous phenomenon that lasted about 20 minutes: The sun moved from right to left in the sky and lights of different colors shone down on the people. Then, Our Lady holding the Christ Child appeared in the sky.

Our Lady did not speak, but witnesses reported a sense of serene joy and confidence. They also found it significant that this occurred in Dong Lu, a stronghold of the Underground Catholic Church. Many interpreted it as sign of Our Lady's protection of the faithful who were loyal to Rome and had rejected the Communist-led Patriot Association.

thousands of pilgrims at the Dong Lu Shrine

Before the ban, thousands of pilgrims came to honor Our Lady of Dong Lu, above. This year, below, a small procession in front of the Dong Lu Church

Procession for Our Lady of Dong Lu
The next year, 1996, the Chinese Public Security Bureau barred all pilgrims from visiting Dong Lu in May. Despite the ban, 100,000 of the faithful successfully arrived to celebrate the Feast of Mary Help of Christians.

The government reaction to this popular response was swift and severe. Five thousand troops were mobilized to guard the roads to Dong Lu throughout May, underground priests were arrested, and the statue of Our Lady was confiscated. Anyone caught driving to Dong Lu for the pilgrimage had his driver's license revoked. The reasons given for the prohibition: It was an illegal gathering and it was bad for social stability.

Today, the ban forbidding pilgrims remains in effect. Still, the May 24 ceremony continues, although the number of faithful is greatly reduced. This year, around 200 Catholics gathered outside the village church for the procession. Catholics in the village report that miracles continue to occur around the site of Mary's appearance.

"The authorities are afraid," said an 81-year-old local surnamed La Said. (2) Certainly they are not afraid of the villagers, who are powerless before the strong police force in their small village. Rather, it is more likely the authorities fear the powerful intercession of Our Lady, who draws the Chinese people under her protective mantle and gives them the courage to resist Communism.

  1. "Police surround China village for Catholic celebration," May 26, 2012, Times of Oman online
  2. Ibid.

Posted May 31, 2013

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