Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Chinese police surrounded the village of Donglu, famous among Catholics for the apparition of Our Lady in 1900, to prevent pilgrims from joining local Catholics in celebrations to honour the Virgin.
Local authorities ordered police to set up roadblocks on the main roads into town, with armed guards to watch the gates day and night.
Yet, in spite of the Communist crackdown, Catholics continue celebrating the Marian month. At least 200 faithful, including women and children, yesterday gathered in front of the village church to take part in the solemn procession.
Donglu is in the Diocese of Baoding (Hebei Province), a few hours drive from Beijing. It is an overwhelmingly Catholic area with almost 90 per cent of the population, and locals are steadfastly devoted to Mary, mother of Jesus.
A village resident said that "in May police stop outsiders from coming in. This has been going on for years," as AsiaNews reported last year,
Catholics in Donglu, a town of about 10,000 inhabitants, confirm that "miracles are repeated incessantly" in the place where the Virgin appeared and the faith of Catholics is getting stronger despite restrictions by the authorities.
"Let us pray for our Church," they say with one strong. The fear of local Communist leaders are baseless because all "we want is to express our faith without causing any trouble."
In 1900, three appearances were reported In China: one in Beijing, in which Mary was accompanied by the Archangel Michael, surrounded by many angels; a second one in the village of Santai during the Boxer Rebellion and a third one in Donglu, one of the strongholds of the Catholic Church.
According to witnesses, Mary appeared in the sky as a beautiful lady. Catholics implored Our Lady to protect them from their enemies and save the city from destruction. After the revolt, a beautiful church was built to thank the Virgin for her protection. The first official pilgrimage took place in 1929. In view of its growing popularity, in 1932 Pope Pius XI approved it as the official shrine of Our Lady.
Between the early 1980s and 1995, Donglu's Marian shrine became a traditional destination of pilgrimage among Catholics northern China, particularly on 23 and 24 May, the feast day of Mary Help of Christians. Each year, tens of thousabds of Catholics from all over the country visited the site. On 23 May 1995, at least 50,000 pilgrims came to Donglu.
However, following the start of a crackdown in 1996 against underground religious communities, the government has allocated substantial resources to stop people from making the pilgrimage to Donglu, especially in the month of May.