IN Changle, most of the locals are very well informed about the tourist spots in this district of eastern Fujian province.
An excited local man said, “We get 10,000 or more pilgrims coming here, especially in May. We hope more from overseas will come. This is something very beautiful, reflecting the wisdom of our government.”
A tour company manageress in Miri commented that many university students in Fuzhou worked as part-time tour guides to practise foreign languages such as French, English and even Bahasa Indonesia.
“Call any Uber driver, most probably a university undergraduate, and he will bring a small group of tourists to this spectacular religious villa or Meiguishanzhuang of Changle in under half an hour,” she said.
This special sanctuary — and a Marian Shrine — for Catholic pilgrims and tourists attract droves of people throughout the year, especially in the month of May.
The sanctuary, known as Maria Rosa Mystica Sanctuary, is located in Longtian or Dragon Field Village, Guhai Town in Changle City, Fujian Province, while the Marian Shrine is found 3,000km south of Beijing.
The construction of the sanctuary began in 1993 and the government endorsed it as a legal religious site in 1996. By 2003, the construction was complete with the sanctuary coming under the government-approved ‘open’ Church of Fuzhou Diocese.
The whole complex consists of Our Lady of Rosary Church, a pavilion, housing a statue of Mary, the Oin Yi Room, Bishop Zheng Chang-zheng Memorial Hall, a library, the Qu Garden, the Yangzi Garden, a home for the elderly and a guest house. It also features Stations of the Cross and carvings, depicting the mysteries of the Rosary.
The Marian Shrine is nestled on a green hill with clear streams and is known in Chinese as Muiguishangzuang (Rose Hill Villa).
The beautiful complex can be seen from a great distance and is a landmark, well promoted by the Changle government as a scenic tourist spot.
While many come to see the complex out of curiosity, the religious come to pray or worship in its chapel. It’s a great pilgrimage centre for Catholics and also a tranquil place for Protestants to come to reflect and pray.
Bishop Joseph Zheng
According to records, it was Bishop Joseph Zheng Chang-cheng of Fuzhou who began construction of the complex in 1993. The first local Roman Catholic Bishop of Chinese descent from the Fuzhou Diocese, he turned 80 years old in 1993 and returned to his hometown on retiring.
Zheng developed some of the land on a barren hill or Dongfeng Shan near his village to fulfill his vision of setting a Catholic academic and cultural exchange centre in Fujian. Three years later, his endeavour received the blessings of the provincial government and the complex became a legal religious site.
His vision was to develop a religious sanctuary of a Rose Hill Villa that is capable of integrating religious pilgrimages, cultural exchanges and tourist attractions. He believed such a sanctuary would be popular both at home and abroad.
In May 2001, the Maria Rosa Mystica Sanctuary was officially declared open. And by the 21st century, Zheng’s vision has become a window for Sino-western cultural exchanges and tourism.
Facing the Taiwan Straits, overlooking Changle Airport and the Matsushita 10,000-tonne wharf — coupled with the spectacular view of the hills and the cultivation of lovely flowers and trees — the sanctuary is a good sightseeing spot, according to a tourist brochure.
Maria Rosa Mystica was Mother Mary who appeared to Pierina Gilli, a Roman Catholic Italian visionary, on July 13, 1947 in Montichiari, Northern Italy. In history, Pierina Gilli is known to be a good person and the mystic seer to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary revealed herself as Rosa Mystica. She was born on Aug 3, 1911, and died on Jan 12, 1991, aged 79.
In the Marian Apparitions at Montichiari, Mother Mary, dressed in white, spoke with Pierina. In her first revelation to Pierina, Mother Mary appeared with three swords but in her second, there were three beautiful roses — white, red and yellow.
In the second encounter, Pierina asked the Lady in white, “Please tell me who you are”, and she replied, “I am the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of you. Our Lord sends me to bring a new Marian Devotion to all religious orders and institutes, male and female alike, and to the priests of the world, I wish that the 13th of each month be celebrated as a Marian Day.”
The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Changle has three roses on her bosom, symbolising prayer, penance and expiation.
The Bishop of Fuzhou was a firm believer that Mother Mary, who had appeared to Pierina and revealed herself as Rosa Mystica, should be revered in the Fujian Hills of his village and that a Marian Shrine would bring peace and spiritual well-being to the people.
According to the locals, the Shrine in Fujian attracts local Catholics, Protestants and foreign religious tourists who come in groups, led by priests and pastors.
A Changle resident told thesundaypost, “This is considered a new Shrine in Fuzhou as it was opened in 2001. As it is dedicated to Maria, the Mother of Jesus, the whole complex is called Rosary Villa or Rose Hill Villa in Chinese.
“In fact, this name was chosen because of the long history of Roman Catholicism in Fujian. Before liberation in 1949, there were many Dominican priests here and they had dedicated the area to Mary of the Rosary. So if you look at the top of the hill over there, you will see a beautiful statue of Mary — a gift from Italy. Today, this beautiful place is used as a retreat for priests and group pilgrimages.”
The complex costs about 200 million yuan and covers five acres, surrounded by battlements of short walls, tastefully designed to embrace and, thus, protect the barren hills.
The church within the complex which can accommodate up to 10,000 people, has a Roman-style dome on which stands a lovely cross. Thirty-five metres tall, it’s a magnificent and spectacular sight. The white dome and the cross can be seen miles away.
Green grass, trees, fruits and flowers, especially roses, are grown in the well-landscaped complex.
The church here is known as basilica, meaning it is a church building that is typically rectangular with a central nave and aisles which usually have a slightly raised platform with an apse at one or both ends. The lobby sound and lighting equipment is quite advanced. The church can accommodate 2,000 for Mass.
Stations of the Cross
A sloping footpath leads up to the church. The 14 white concrete Stations of the Cross are located on the left side of the footpath. Jesus Christ bearing the cross as he made his way along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary where he was crucified is portrayed in the form of a sculptured statue.
It was the Bishop’s wish that 1,000 longan and 800 persimmon trees and other cash crops were planted to make the Sanctuary self-supporting. Roses and other trees are grown to make the once barren hills look green and lush.
When members of the Lau Clan from Sibu visited the sanctuary, they were very impressed by the beautiful design and layout. It was noon when they walked towards their chartered coach. Soothing hymns could be heard over the loudspeakers as if to bless the team from Sibu.
Lau Clan Association of Sibu chairman Albert Lau said, “This is an amazing place. There are many things we can learn here and do in Sibu. The late Bishop Zheng has left behind a great legacy. What a remarkable thinker he was.”
Lau felt sure that in the 21st century, more tourists and religious pilgrims will visit the sanctuary.
“Everyone needs a place to improve his or her spiritual health. This is a good example of what people with vision can do — and what can be created out of a barren hill. The sanctuary is now self-supporting. Very impressive indeed.”