Pilgrims crawling to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Shanxi. Image Credit: RFA

September 15, 2019

Location: Taiyuan, Shanxi

Participants: Estimates from various news sources vary, running as high as 10,000

By some estimates nearly ten thousand Catholic pilgrims travelled to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (Qikushengmutang,七苦聖母堂) sitting atop of the Mount of the Seven Sorrows (七苦山) in Dong’ergou, Taiyuan, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, 2019. This year, the pilgrims were alarmed by the imminent demolition of a structure at the Shrine, an order by the local government to the Taiyuan Diocese in late August 2019. Dong’ergou is a strongly Catholic region with many structures and sites sacred to local people.

On August 26, 2019, the local authorities instructed state-approved Bishop Paul Meng Ningyou (孟宁友) of the Taiyuan Diocese under the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to demolish an arch of the Shrine called the “Gate of Heaven” (Shangtianzimen,上天之门) on the grounds of “unlawful land occupation” (feifazhandi, 非法占地). Bishop Meng has been negotiating to preserve the landmark and succeeded in postponing the demolition until early October 2019. The authorities, however, not only forbade the local diocese to organize the annual pilgrimage, but also set up roadblocks and implemented traffic control measures to prevent pilgrims from reaching the Dong’ergou Marian Shrine. Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, social stability in the area was a top priority for the local authorities. On the day of the Feast, pilgrims who circumvented the restrictions spent hours walking uphill for at least three kilometers to reach the Shrine. There were no protests per se, as the authorities might have feared.

Several days before the Feast, on September 11, about one hundred Catholics crawled up to the Shrine, hoping that their hardship and prayer would be rewarded with a cancellation of the demolition plan.

It is not the first time that the local authorities announced plans to eradicate structures on the Mount of the Seven Sorrows. Last year, statues of the Twelve Apostles on the hilltop were forcibly removed. Despite the signing of the Sino-Vatican agreement in September 2018, the Chinese government launched a five-year campaign to sinicize religions early that year. Chinese practices are to be incorporated into Catholic practices, while structures and symbols that appear too religious are to be removed. The impact of sinicization has extended far beyond underground churches to the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.