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The Catholic Defender: “Our Lady Of China , Dong Lu (1900, 1995)

In 1900, 10,000 troops of the Chinese anti-foreign, anti-Christian Boxer movement threatened to annihilate the inhabitants of the humble village of Dong Lu in China’s Hebei province. Dong Lu was a poor place, called the village of beggars. It consisted of a small community of Catholics. As the Boxers approached, the village priest Father Wu prayed to the Blessed Mother to intercede on behalf of the village.

Our Lady, dressed in white, appeared in the sky with a fiery horseman believed to be St. Michael. The Boxers shot at the image, but it remained intact. Terrified, the Boxers fled, sparing the village.

In thanksgiving, Father Wu commissioned an artist to paint an image of the Madonna dressed in the royal robes of a Chinese dowager empress with a Christ Child on her knee.

The image became known as Our Lady of Dong Lu, commemorating the victory over the Boxer assault. The regal appearance of Mary was meant to convey her intercessory power and queenship. A church built in Dong Lu to house the image became a popular pilgrim destination. The miraculous event resulted in widespread conversions in the village and surrounding areas. Even today, despite persecution, the area remains loyal to the church and the pope.

Our Lady of Dong Lu could be considered the Chinese version of Our Lady of Guadalupe. While not a miraculous portrait like that of the Mexican Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Dong Lu portrays Mary and the Christ Child as Chinese, reinforcing the undeniable truth that Catholicism is as much a part of China as it is in every other part of the world. It’s an unmistakable example of Chinese tradition acculturated into Catholicism.

Through the decades, pilgrims have joined processions in Dong Lu led by the image of Our Lady of Dong Lu. In May 23, 1995, 30,000 Catholics had gathered for Mass celebrated by four underground bishops at the Dong Lu shrine. During the consecration, those gathered witnessed the sun spinning from left to right and the Lady of China and the Christ Child appearing in the sky. The next day, May 24, 100,000 worshipers arrived at the Dong Lu shrine, despite harsh attempts by government troops to suppress the procession.

In 1996, government troops destroyed the shrine at Dong Lu, but underground Catholics rescued the image, and it remains hidden. Regardless of the cruel obstacles, the Catholics at Dong Lu are steadfast in their faith and they continue to have processions using the image of Our Lady of Dong Lu as their lodestar. We are honored to pay homage to the Chinese Catholics for their courageous faith.

There is a long-standing Catholic tradition of processions led by an image of Mary to seek divine intersession to avert an impending disaster. In the year 591, St. Pope Gregory organized a procession with an image of Our Lady allegedly painted by St. Luke, to ask Mary’s assistance in ending a plague afflicting Rome. As the procession neared the Vatican, the participants saw St. Michael the Archangel sheathing his flaming sword as he stood at the cupola of Hadrian’s mausoleum. At that moment, the air was cleared and the plague ended. The faithful rejoiced as they sang praises to honor the Mother of God.

Meditating on the painting of Our Lady of Dong Lu grips the mind and stirs the heart to thoughts of love and a desire for union. St. Augustine said that the search for God is through matter and sense. There is a crucial intersection between matter and spirit. Human beings crave intimacy and love, longing to unite with the object of their desire. Meditating on this painting should nurture our understanding and love of the sacred bond between Jesus and his mother.

Faith itself is a process of discovery, which stimulates the mind and heart to suggest new ways of synthesizing traditional data. Faith transforms visual perceptions — first by what is believed but not seen, and then by what is seen with believing eyes. Catholic art stresses the bond between physical creation and the spirit. The painting of Our Lady of Dong Lu reflects the beauty, symmetry and harmony of creation. It aids us in our quest to reach a more profound love and understanding of God’s creation.

“And through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven.” (Colossians 1:20)

Historically, Catholic art glorifies how humanity and the eternal are reconciled through the Incarnation.

Unquestionably, the painting of Our Lady of Dong Lu magnifies the unsurpassable beauty of the Incarnation and underscores its cosmic significance.


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