In 1900, China reported three Marian apparitions: One in Beijing in which Our Lady was accompanied by Saint Michael the archangel who, in turn, was surrounded by multitudes of angels.
A second apparition involved a weeping statue of Our Lady in the village of Santai during the Boxer Rebellion.
The third apparition occurred in Donglu.
Donglu is about 40 kilometers from Baoding in Hebei province, and it is one of the strongholds of the unofficial Catholic Church in China.
Witnesses recount that a beautiful lady, recognized as Mary, appeared in the skies.
The Catholics implored Our Lady to save them from their enemies and their city from destruction.
In thanksgiving for Our Lady’s protection over the city of Donglu during the Boxer Rebellion, a beautiful church was built in her honor.
It was meant to serve as a constant reminder to the people of Mary’s loving and motherly protection.
The pastor, at the time, secured a painting of the Dowager Empress Ci Xi dressed in imperial robes.
He commissioned an artist to use it as the background for the image of Our Lady holding the Christ Child.
The picture was hung in the Church of Donglu, which eventually became a famous place of pilgrimage.
People began coming to the shrine in Donglu in 1924, but the first official pilgrimage took place in 1929.
By 1932, the location became such a popular pilgrimage site that Pope Pius XI approved it as an official Marian shrine.
Since 1929 tens of thousands of pilgrims have made their way up the hill to the shrine, especially in May.
On May 23, 1995, pilgrims witnessed another phenomenon.
Over 30,000 Catholics from the unofficial Church had gathered for Mass at the Donglu shrine.
It was the vigil of the Feast of Our Lady, Mary, Help of Christians, a favorite of Chinese Catholics.
There were four bishops of the unofficial Church concelebrating the Mass and nearly 100 unofficial priests standing in the open field, all eager to honor Our Lady in a special way during her special month.
Suddenly, during the opening prayer and again during the consecration, the people observed the sun spinning from right to left.
Light rays of various shades emanated from the sky.
The people, mesmerized by the phenomenon, could look directly at it without blinking.
Suddenly from the center of the sun people saw what they later described as an apparition.
Some beheld the Cross; others said they had seen the Holy Family.
Still others had seen Our Lady holding the Infant Jesus while others claimed they had seen the Sacred Host.
People, overwhelmed by the vision, suddenly became conscious of their sinfulness and began to cry out, “Holy Mother, forgive me my sins,” or “Holy Virgin Mary, have pity on us your children.”
The phenomenon of the sun changing colors, approaching and then retreating while radiating various hues, lasted for about 20 minutes.
Needless to say, the government has not been terribly enthusiastic about having thousands upon thousands of people gather anywhere.
This is all the more threatening when the gathering involves religion and people of the unofficial (underground) Church.
The Public Security Bureau, the agency in charge of keeping watch over the unofficial Catholic community, periodically flexes its muscles to prevent anyone from going on pilgrimage to Donglu.
In 1995, when tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked to Donglu for the Feast of Mary Help of Christians on May 24, the Public Security barred all pilgrims from joining anyone on the hill.
The police forced people back into buses and trains without offering any explanation.
Still, thousands successfully reached the area by finding alternative ways to get there.
As many as 100,000 participated in the celebration.