Beijing (AsiaNews) This year as has been the case the last 9 years Chinese Catholics have been prohibited from making pilgrimages to Dong Lu (Hebei), where there has been a national shrine dedicated to Our Lady of China since 1926.
AsiaNews sources said police warned all the village's inhabitants not to conduct formal public ceremonies and have banned them from hosting Christian pilgrims traveling there from other parts of the country.
In recent years the village's festival dedicated to the Virgin Mary has attracted thousands of faithful and hundreds of priests from all over China.
An underground bishop said that so far in the first half of May only a few Catholics have been able to get past police security controls, yet were only able to pray privately in homes and not at the sanctuary itself.
"It's impossible to visit Dong Lu, since police stop anyone coming there from outside the village," the bishop said. "And security checks are even tighter in May."
Only the village's 2500 official resident Catholics were able to gather at the shrine, where there is a large statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus dressed in imperial clothing. The village's Patriotic church Catholics were led by auxiliary bishop Su Changshan of Baoding.
The sanctuary in Dong Lu was instituted after Chinese bishops approved it during a Synod held in Shanghai on May 12, 1924. The Synod was of great importance for evangelizing in China, since the meeting also passed policies along the lines of enculturation and localization of Church practices and preaching. The Marian shrine in Dong Lu is part of this scheme of enculturation.
Thanks to the efforts of the then papal nuncio, Celso Costantini, the Vatican agreed to ordain the first Chinese bishops and to change the course of studies at China's seminaries, integrating western Christian theology with traditional Chinese philosophy.
In 1932 Pope Pius XI approved Dong Lu as a pilgrimage destination. Because of this link to a papal decision, Catholic pilgrims have always experienced the trip to Dong Lu as an expression of fidelity to Rome.
The Shanghai Synod and its importance for China is remembered in another Marian shrine, the Sheshan sanctuary.Last May 8 (the feast of our Lady of China) 5000 faithful gathered for Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians. The bishop of Shanghai Jin Luxian recalled the work of Celso Costantini during his homily given on that occasion.