The village is a nationally famous pilgrimage site since the 19th century. Now, the Catholic signs and images are disappearing.
by Zhang Feng
In the Northern province of Shanxi, the Zhaojialing village, in Xiangyuan county administered by Changzhi city, has a century-old Catholic presence. In 1790, the Italian Franciscan bishop Mariano Zaralli died there, poisoned by gas at night, while he was visiting the local Catholic community.
In 1810, a local Catholic woman donated money to build a simple church in honor of the Virgin Mary. From these humble beginnings, a shrine was erected between 1867 and 1872, and the Marian sanctuary of Our Lady of Zhaojialing achieved national fame. It was closed and half-destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but it was rebuilt and re-inaugurated in 1987. Other religious buildings surround the sanctuary, which attracts large pilgrimages each May. All the villagers are Catholics.
Beginning in May this year, the government forced local Catholics to remove from their door lintels the plaques on which religious terms are inscribed. As a result, on the plaques terms such as “The Lord bestows great grace (主賜鴻恩),” “Heavenly grace is overflowing (天恩洋溢)”, “The light of grace shines (恩光普照)” were replaced with “Harmony in the family leads to prosperity in all undertakings (家和萬事興),” “Homeland filled with happiness (幸福滿家園),” and other secular terms.
Cameras have also been installed in the church. Reportedly, the priest and churchgoers often have to gather together secretly.
Local believers told Bitter Winter that the church’s structure in Zhaojialing was altered to “sinicize” it. Religious signs on the village’s streets were also forcibly rectified. For example, signs with terms like “The Street of Our Lady of the Fields (聖母大街)” and “Gate of Heaven (上天之門)” were replaced with new ones with “The Street of Harmony (和諧大街)” and “Gate of Roses (玫瑰之門).”
Besides, the Bible verses displayed on both sides of the street were replaced with slogans praising the Communist Party.
It is not the first time that Catholic images and signs have been eliminated, including in churches of the government-controlled Patriotic Catholic Church. For example, in May this year, images of saints and a stele of martyrs in a government-controlled Catholic church in Xingtai city in the central province of Hebei were covered up.