The Shrine of Our Lady of China in Donglu


Location

Our Lady of China Church is situated in Donglu, Qingyuan County, Baoding City, Hebei Province (twenty kilometers Southeast of the City of Baoding). It is one of the two pilgrimage attractions in China acknowledged by the Pope. (The other one is the Basilica of Sheshan in Songjiang, Shanghai).

History

Donglu is a village in the Huabei (North China) plains. It has a population of approximately nine-thousand people. In the village, about seven-thousand were Catholics. (Also, there were at least seven-thousand Catholics in the village of Liuhe, Qingxu County, Shanxi Province.)

In 1862, among the inhabitants numbering two-thousand, none were Catholics. There were only two big families, the Yang and the Kou. The Yangs were less well off. Under the influence of a Master and in superstition, their family member dismantled the Buddhist tower in the Kou’s pond. Word went out and the Kous took the vandal and put him in front of the court. The Yangs consulted with his relative who was a Catholic and found the help of a Chinese priest named Fr. Liu. They took religious instructions for six months and were baptized. The Kous, seeing that they could be protected if they were Catholics, also went to Fr. Liu. In the Spring of 1863, 50 Yangs and Kous were baptized by Fr. Liu. In 1874, 103 people became Catholics. In 1896, there were 698 Catholics.

In June 1900, during the Boxer Uprising, nine-thousand villagers from other areas including Baoding came to Donglu for refuge. At that time, their pastor Fr. F. Zhang, was in Beijing and couldn’t return to Baoding. Fr. Wang, who was one of those taking refuge in Donglu took charge and led his villagers to dig up trenches and lined the sides with thorny branches. The Boxers, who had faced defeat in other areas, had to retreat to Donglu. They made tents and surrounded the city vowing to kill all the Catholics in the village. With only a few guns and one canon, they were able to fight off the Boxer's attack four times. In July, the villages hold the town despite attacked by the Qing Army forty-four times. On August 15, news came that the Eight-Nation Alliance reached Beijing. With the retreat of the Qing Army, the church in Dong Lu was saved. The other church which survived the attack was Xishiku Catholic Church in Beijing. Word had been spreading out that the Holy Mother had appeared in the sky of Dong Lu and showed her maternal protection. Later, the converts told Fr. JM Tremorin, CM that the “white Lady” scared away all who wanted to enter the village.

Birth of a Pilgrim Attraction

1901-1903: In gratitude to the Holy Mother for her protection, priests from the Congregation of the Mission built a church in Gothic style with a convent and schools. The walls were reinforced and four gates were constructed - “Help of Christians,” “Tower of David,” “St. Michael,” and “St. Louis.” In 1915, there were forty-two thousand Catholics in Donglu diocese and thirty-five hundred Catholics lived in the village.

After the Boxer Uprising, Donglu became the center of pilgrimage. Pope Pius XI appointed Archbishop Celso Constantini to be the first Apostolic Delegate in China and the first National Conference of Bishops was held in Shanghai During the conference, a decision was made that devotion should be offered to the Virgin Mary and all Chinese people should be consecrated to Our Lady of China. The statue of Our Lady in Dong Lu Church was chosen as an image for this purpose. After the conference, Bishop Paul Montaigne, CM returned to his diocese and made a decision to start inviting all Catholics to go to Dong Lu for pilgrimage.

1928: Approval was obtained from Bishop Joseph Zhou Ji-shi, CM to send a French priest Fr. JM Tremorin, CM to Lourdes for a pilgrimage. In May, 1929, activities began. Villagers from Bao Ding came daily. Bishops and priests arrived with parishioners from Beijing, Tianjin, Xianxuan and Anguo Dioceses.

1937: Pope Pius XI gave his recognition and approval after reading the pilgrimage reports and the request (to consecrate the Chinese people to Our Lady of China). In May, the bishops went to Donglu with thousands of faithful. The papal letter was read and made official in the church.

Destruction

1937: The Sino-Japanese War broke out and northern China was occupied.

1941: The church was destroyed. All pilgrimages stopped.

Rebuilt

1989 March 12: Under the guidance of Bishop Peter Fan Xue-yan, the sum of about one-million dollars was raised to rebuild the church.

1900, Oct 3: Pope John Paul II officially gave his blessing to this project.

1992, May 1: Construction began.

Structure

1901: The church was 55 meters in length, 15.5 meter in width with a twin tower (23 meters in height). This became the largest Catholic Church in the diocese.

1992: After completion, the new church in Gothic style had increased its size by one-third in comparison to the old building. This was 66 meters long and 18 meters wide and encompassed an area of 1548 square meters. The bell tower was 43 meters high, with glittering metal on the top. Having a capacity of three-thousand people, this became the largest Catholic Church in Northern China.

Official Image

In gratitude foro the protection of the Holy Mother, Fr. Geron (Pastor) invited a virgin to draw an oriental image of Our Lady and put this behind the altar on the wall. After a few years, a French artist who was touring China was invited by the Parish priest Fr. P. Flament to redraw this image. Specific instructions were given to him:

  1. Our Lady was to be in royal courtly attire.
  2. Her facial expression was to be kind and merciful and she would wear a crown of jewels.
  3. The child Jesus would be on her lap.

At that time, the Empress Dowager Tsu-Hsi of Qing Dynasty was the highest authority in China. Her image was adopted and the feather on her right hand was replaced by a staff, with the child Jesus standing on her left. The face of the empress was replaced with the Virgin Mary. Her eyes expressed nothing but love and mercy coinciding the Prayer honoring the Virgin Mary, the Hail Holy Queen “…turn then, O most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us….” According to the tradition of all the images of Our Lady, a veil covered her head and she also wore a crown with jewels. Jesus had a belted purple cloak, with traditional shoes of the Qing dynasty on his feet. The Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove and the cross symbolized his title, Jesus Christ our Savior. Stretching out his hands and looking far ahead, he also had a crown showing royalty. To be consistent with the Chinese culture, calligraphy of the character of ‘longevity’ was printed at the background. Both sides were scenes of the countryside with houses and pagoda. Across the top said: Our Lady of Donglu, Pray for us. This oil painting is two meters high and was completed in 1908.

In the month of May, villagers recited the rosary and followed it with benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the evening. On the feast of the Assumption, there was a huge celebration to remember the time that they were saved by the Virgin Mary.

Pilgrimage

May 2: The day before Mother’s Day became the feast day of Our Lady of China. This was to dedicate their prayers for China so that there would be peace and prosperity. May was also the month for pilgrimage. Catholics from all over the country came to offer their devotion and prayer to the Holy Mother.

May 24: This is the feast day of Our Lady, of Help of Christians. Solemn Mass would start at 9 am. In the afternoon by 2 pm, villagers had already cleaned the streets and doors were adorned with flags of welcome. There was a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. After procession, all went to the church for Benediction.

1929-1937: Many pilgrims come daily to Dong Lu.

Among the most prominent officials who came were: Archbishop Celso Constantini (Apostolic Delegate to China), Archbishop Mario Zanin (Apostolic Delegate to China), Bishop Paul Montaigne, CM (Beijing Diocese), Bishop Sun De-zhen Melchior, CM (Anguo Diocese), twenty other bishops and priests from XianXuan Diocese, and over one-hundred other priests including Fr. Yu Pin (later became Cardinal), Fr. Vincent Lebbe (Founder of the Congregation of St. John the Baptist and the Congregation of St. Teresa). Bishop Jean de Vienne (Tianjin Diocese), and Bishop Zhou Ji-shi Joseph, CM (Baoding Diocese) came for pilgrimages very often. At one time, there were twenty-five thousand visitors within one year. Miracles of healings were also reported. Christian faith was greatly increased in Northern China.

After 1992, the church was rebuilt and activities resumed for a short period of time. After a short while, they were restrictions again. On May 23, 1995, it was reported that apparitions of the Virgin Mary were seen by the pilgrims in Dong Lu.

1996: Activities were banned.

Today, the devotion has spread outside of the China Mainland. The image of Our Lady was very popular. In 1964, Bishop Lokuang built the Church of Our Lady of China in Tainan. In 1974, the tenth anniversary of the completion of their church and all the priests from Taiwan congregated in Tainan for this celebration.

 

Reference: Father. Anh Thu Tran (John the Baptist),C.S.J.B., Marian Shrines in China, Published by St. Francis Xavier Church (Chinese Community),Vancouver, BC. Canada,2009.

Address: St Francis Xavier Parish,428 Great Northern Way, Van.,BC,V5T 4S5,Canada, Tel 1-(604)254-2727, E-mail address: jbtat@yahoo.com

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