Rome (AsiaNews) – Next July 16th pilgrims and faithful from Henan will not be allowed to go on pilgrimage to the sanctuary in Tianjiajing. The government from the province of Henan has in fact decreed that the historic sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be blown up with dynamite; a complete ban on Catholics organizing their annual pilgrimage; a complete ban on any religious gathering or function being celebrated in the area. A statue of the Virgin, over one hundred years old, is destined to be destroyed along with 14 stations of The Way of the Cross which punctuate the entrance to the shrine.
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel lies in Tianjiajing (Linxian district), in the diocese of Anyang, in the reaches of a mountain which dominates majestic scenery. It was ordered built by PIME missionary Msgr. Stefano Scarsella, then apostolic vicar to northern Henan, to thank the Virgin for preserving them from the dangers of the Boxers persecution in 1900. The shrine was built in1903-1905.
The elegantly styled neo-roman Church was almost completely destroyed first by the Japanese in the Second World War, then by the Red Guard in the 60’s. Since 1979, the faithful returned to celebrating their faith with solemn liturgies and pilgrimages, travelling many kilometres on foot to the sanctuary ruins and representation of the Lourdes Grotto, where still today the original Marian statue can be seen.
According to AsiaNews sources, May 12th last, on the feast of Our Lady of China, the diocese of Anyang distributed leaflets on the upcoming annual pilgrimage to Tianjiajing on July 16th feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Usually the pilgrimage gathers 45-50 thousand people. Since then the Department for Religious Affairs has kept strict surveillance of all priests, forcing them to hold “discussions” to convince them not to go ahead with the pilgrimage.
May 11th last the secretary general of Henan province gave a personal order to cancel the pilgrimage and spread the order to the neighbouring provinces of Hebei and Shanxi.
To occupy the site and prevent any form of sit-in, the provincial government began holding military exercises in the area of the shrine on May 12, mobilizing over 700 soldiers. Still today all roads leading to the sanctuary are closed. All cars and pedestrians who pass by are stopped and searched.
The provincial governor’s decision has shocked the faithful of the diocese because just this year they began rebuilding the sanctuary, offering money and hours of work, repairing the road and the stations of the Way of the Cross which lie along it.
In answer on May 14th the government of Anyang city revoked the sanctuary’s permit and the permit for the pilgrimage, defining them as “illegal religious activity” and May 16th he issued a resolution which denies access to the land to Anyang Church, requisitioning the sanctuary site.
“It’s unbelievable that they have done this “, one faithful tells AsiaNews. “These local communist leaders don’t even know the central governments laws governing religious polices, they only create useless and dangerous tension”. “We will never give in “says another faithful. “We are not afraid and we will defend our legitimate rights to the very end”.
In the meantime, since the end of May a “working group” from the local government has installed itself in Tianjiajing. According to some suppositions, the local government move requisitioning the lands and abolishing the pilgrimage is due to the geographical position of the Church, on the summit, above a valley ideal for the building of a hotel or perhaps country villa of some Party member.
Faithful from the diocese of Anyang have launched an appeal through AsiaNews: “We ask all our brothers and sisters in the Lord – they say – to pray for us and spread our message to all the faithful of the world”.