WHAT'S NEW?

Liturgical Season 5/2/03 World News
New Resources  Marian Events  Mary in the Secular Press
 News from the
Marian Library
 Prayer Corner News Archives

Mary Page News items give insight into our interest areas, our outreach, and the many ways people honor Our Lady. We welcome your input and your comments.

Liturgical Season

To celebrate the Easter Feast in the company of Mary see:

In preparation for the month of May, use the following:

Mary Page offers a variety of resources inviting study, reflection and meditation.  We also list important Marian dates for each month of the year.  Please see Marian Commemoration Days for the month of May.

Rosary Markings

Rosary Markings is an answer to John Paul II's proclamation of "The Year of the Rosary" (2002-2003).  Rosary Markings will explore various facets of the rosary all through this anniversary year.  It will be updated frequently.  

See our recent addition from April 30.  Previous Reflections are listed on our Rosary Index.

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New Resources

We have revised and updated the following features: The Hail Mary in Various Languages, Marian Shrines in the United States, Links to Related Websites, and our illustrated reflections on the Litany of Loreto.  We have also posted an essay written by Sr. M. Danielle Peters on the Jewishness of Mary under Mary in the Bible.

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  News from the Marian Library

We have received a number of emails from readers commending our Mary Page web site.  Thank you all for your encouragement and support.  The following comment is a typical example:

I have found your website most helpful in my research; I am a Catholic and a literary scholar specializing in seventeenth-century English poets. The page [on the Litany of Loreto] is beautiful, informative, and spiritually enriching. Thanks!

Theresa

Current Exhibit

Native American Madonnas by Father Guiliani will be on display in the Marian Library Gallery from March 10 to May 5, 2003.  The Gallery is open from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm weekdays.  For more information, or to arrange for viewing at another time, call (937) 229-4214.

To see a virtual exhibit of this year's displays click into Current Exhibit.

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Major Exhibit Coming Next Year

A rare collection of art from the Vatican will be coming to UD during its short tour.  "The Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary" will arrive in Sept. 2003 for a two month stay in the Roesch Library first-floor gallery and seventh-floor Marian Library Gallery.  The multicultural exhibition includes pieces dating from the fourth century to the 20th century.

The works include a variety of mediums such as oil on canvas and copper; tempera; gold on panel-carved sections of sarcophagi in marble; and statuary in wood, bronze, ivory, lead and soapstone.  The artists are from several different ethnic backgrounds.  Cultures of Africa, China, Korea, Greece, Central Europe, Russia, Brazil, and the Solomon Islands are represented.  The 38-piece collection is housed in the Vatican Museums, although many of the pieces are in areas only accessible to scholars for study.

Aside from an extended stay at the John Paul II cultural center in Washington, D.C., the exhibit has rarely been seen by the public.  The cost of transporting, insuring, and securing the art will be provided through private donations.

The works are put into six categories: Eve and Mary, The Incarnation, The Theotokos (Mother of God), Images of Prayer, Mary in Cultures Around the World, and Walking with Mary in the Third Millennium.  The sections are introduced by writings from Pope John Paul II.

The exhibition puts emphasis on the mission of the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, which is serving as the host.  It will be the second exhibit in a biennial series of international art here at UD.

Source: "Rare Vatican art to make its way to campus" by Meghan Roberts, published on p. 7 in Flyer News for September 27, 2002.

For more information see also the article by Pamela Gregg in the August 22 issue of U.D.'s Campus Report.

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International Marian Research Institute Course Schedule

The schedule of IMRI courses for Spring 2003 - Fall 2003 is now available for view.  Courses for this Summer will begin on June 16.

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Personal thoughts and reflections about Mary 
from our readers 

We've added a section to our Research and Publications section showing selected personal comments from our readers about the Virgin Mary.  Click here to see comments received within the past month.  From this page, feel free to submit your own personal thoughts on Mary.  

We also encourage our readers to submit their opinions on various styles of Marian Art through an on-line art survey.

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Marian Events

Announcements from the Arch of Triumph of The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Join us at Notre Dame on May 30-June 1!

Plan to attend the Annual Medjugorje Conference on the beautiful campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Executive Director Laurence D. Behr will speak on May 31, about the origins, spiritual significance, and progress of our great undertaking for Jesus and Mary, and the Culture of Life.

For complete conference info, go to: www.medjugorjeconference.com/conference.

Click this link for a list of all of the current Marian Events by geographical position.

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Prayer Corner Requests

You are invited to help us pray for our Prayer Corner intentions.  Please take a look!  This site has been updated and enhanced and now allows users to directly submit prayer requests or to volunteer as a prayer partner for these intentions!

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News from Around the World

FOURTH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF CHRISTIAN MUSIC:
"THE WORLD SINGS TO MARY"

Wednesday, April 30, 2003, at 20:30 hours (8:30 p.m.)
Palasport Don Bosco in Schio (Vicenza) Italy

The St Maximilian Maria Kolbe Association of Schio, of the satellite radio station Radio Kolbe, with the auspices of the Municipality of Schio, organizes the fourth edition of the international concert of Christian music "The World Sings to Mary," which will start on Wednesday, April 30, 2003, at 20:30 hours in the Astra Theater in Schio.

This event has been transformed into a permanent event in the panorama of worldwide Catholic music, enriched through the years by the presence of the best loved artists coming from Italy and various parts of the world, in addition to the interest that many newspaper, radio and national and local TV personalities have wanted to give the concert.

Participating will be Claudio Venturi, an esteemed composer-musician of Verona who has three albums to his name. From Naples Padre Paolo Auricchio, a young priest and chaplain of the juvenile detention center in Nisida, will be present. He has shared his ministry and has won young people by means of Christian music. The news this year is the presence of Fray Gianni, a young Franciscan from Foggia, one of the new revelations of Italian Christian music in Italy in 2002, who has just released his first CD, entitled "Y Gozo Será" (And there will be joy).

The expectation is great at the concert featuring the famous artist and ex pop star of the 1980’s, the Englishman Sal Solo (who resides today in the USA), ex-leader and solo voice of the famous groups, The Rockets, and Classix Nuoveau. Since 1983, when he had a profound conversion to Christianity, he has been giving testimony around the world by means of multimedia concerts. For the first time in Italy, from Tampa, Florida, the singer-composer Annie Karto, appreciated throughout the entire American continent for her melodious, meditative, and prayerful music, will perform. From Ireland, the beloved Dana, a popular singer-composer known by the European public for more than 25 years will participate. She has a great career, and was author of the hymn for JMJ of Denver and deputy of the European parliament in Bruxelles.

The concert will also be presented this year by Piergiorgio Bussani, together with Radio Kolbe announcer Anna María Pozza and with Annalisa Cantando, the conductor of Mediaset in Milan. Radio Kolbe will have the responsibility, besides organizing the concert, of recording the event for radio and television.

The Concert will have a new artistic director, Fabio Angiolin, in charge also of press relations in collaboration with Christian Music Information of Milan. Entrance into the theater is free.

Our station, Radio Kolbe, will follow the phases of the event with the following programs:

— Tuesday, April 29th from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., live and direct, "The World Sings to Mary Special," with interviews with the people of the Concert;

— Wednesday, April 30 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., a direct link to the Palasport Don Bosco in Schio to interview the stars of the event;

— Wednesday April 30, from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. the concert live and direct.

The radio station Radio Kolbe can be heard

- on the Satellite Hot Bird 13° East Freq. 12,673 MHz – pol. Vert. – fec. ¾ - SR 27500;

- On the internet www.radiokolbe.net in audio and in video;

- On these FM frequencies: in the province of Vicenza 94.1 FM - Verona 93.25 FM – Altopiano di Asiago 93.25 FM.

From Zenit

Chiara Lubich's Address at International Marian Congress

Focolare Founder Presents "Way of Mary" as Model for Christians

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, MAY 1, 2003 (Zenit.org)

Here is an excerpt of Chiara Lubich's address on Monday at the international Marian congress here. The founder of the Focolare Movement described the "Way of Mary" as a model for a Christian's way of perfection.

* * *

Since Mary is the prototype and form of the Church, it is evident that all Christians can find their model in this sublime creature. And so it was also with us. In fact, we discovered in Mary our form, the model of our way of perfection.

Although the different moments in her life as presented by the Gospel were extraordinary, they appeared to us as successive stages that we could keep in mind to find light and encouragement as we passed through the different moments of our spiritual life.

This clarification was so strong that we called our way the "Via Mariae," the "Way of Mary."

Here are some of the stages in a very brief synthesis, little more than headings.

The first event in Mary's life is the Annunciation (Luke 1:25), when the Word became flesh in her womb.

Looking at the lives of several saints, we can notice that something similar happened to them.

When people go to visit St. Damian's Church in Assisi, where Clare lived, the guide who explains that sacred place to them might sometimes say: "Here Christ became incarnate in the heart of Clare."

Although Clare of Assisi had been living already a fervent Christian life, her meeting with St. Francis, who was the personification of the word "poverty" for the world, through a charism of the Spirit, brought forth a new reality in her. It made Christ grow in her soul to the point of making her one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church.

Similarly, when people come face to face with the charism of unity and agree to make it their own, something similar to what happened in Mary and certain saints takes place in them. Christ, in their heart, can truly grow spiritually in fulfillment of the reality of baptism.

The second episode in Mary's life is her visit to Elizabeth. She went in order to help her. However, as soon as she arrived, having found in her relative a person who was open to the mysteries of God, she felt that she could share with her the great secret she had in her heart and she did so in the Magnificat, in this way narrating to Elizabeth her extraordinary experience.

All those who get to know the Movement and choose God as the ideal of their life realize that in order to translate this choice into concrete terms they must begin to love. And they do love. But love is a light, and understanding something of the action of God present within them, they perceive, for the first time, the golden thread of his love in their life. And they willingly tell what they have understood to their brothers and sisters. It's their experience.

The third event in Mary's life is the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:7; Matthew 1:25). In the Movement we love and we are loved in return because everyone wants to love.

This mutual love brings about the presence of Jesus among people. It is -- as I mentioned earlier -- a "generating of Christ," in imitation of Mary.

Mary presents her Son in the Temple and meets the old Simeon. It is a moment of joy for her, because this just and holy man confirms that her child is the Son of God.

At the same time though, it is a suffering. Simeon turns to her and says: "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also" (Luke 2:35).

Those who want to live the spirituality of the Movement go through a similar experience.

It is when they come to know that in order to walk along this way, it is necessary to say "yes" to the cross. It is the announcement of the mystery of Jesus crucified and forsaken as being essential to the life of unity.

Quite soon after Simeon's warning, Mary suffers during the flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13), undergoing a persecution that was marked by the blood of many innocent children.

To a certain extent, something similar happens to those who follow the Via Mariae. The ideal that they live and present to the world is in antithesis with the world. It is no wonder then that when they begin to spread this ideal, the first signs of opposition can appear. In those moments, they need to respond by loving Jesus forsaken, the victim of persecution par excellence, in these crosses so that the risen Lord may continue to shine forth in their heart.

When Jesus is 12 years old, he stops in Jerusalem to speak with the doctors in the Temple. When Mary finds him again, she says: "Son, why have you treated us so? Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously" (Luke 2:48). And Jesus responds: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49).

This is a new step in Mary's life. We could compare her frame of mind in that moment with a typical period lived by those who follow our way. They become aware, perhaps after years, that various temptations, painful aridity, long since gone due to the effect of the charism they embraced, now resurface with acute insistence.

This makes them suffer and they turn to the Lord, saying: "Why have you left me?"

Then the Lord seems to answer them: "Did you not know that all the good and beautiful things that you experienced were mine, that you received them only out of pure grace?"

This lays the necessary foundations of humility so that Christ may live and grow in these persons. This period might be the so-called night of the senses which the mystics speak of.

Also for Mary, the loss of Jesus in the Temple was, in a certain way, a "night of the senses": She no longer saw him, she no longer heard his voice. His presence had been taken away from her mother's love.

After this trial, as far as we know, Mary lived a long period of intimate family life with Jesus.

Likewise, those who humbly accept and overcome the preceding stages and trials frequently find a new and deeper union with Jesus.

This period can last for a long time, even though crosses are not lacking.

Then Jesus begins his public life and Mary follows him in his mission with her heart, at times, also physically.

All this reminds the people of the Movement of that period in their spiritual life in which, having acquired the habit of listening to the voice of Jesus in their heart, they become keenly aware of it and they follow it.

During his public life, Jesus pronounced words of eternal life, he worked miracles, he formed the disciples and he founded the Church.

Persons of the Movement who have reached this point are involved in similar facts performed by Jesus who is present in them and in their midst. In them too, Jesus pronounces words which have the flavor of eternity.

Through them also, he works miracles of conversion, for example. His presence in them knows how to shape his disciples and thus to bring about new developments in the kingdom of God.

And now comes the hour of immolation for Mary. It is Mary desolate about whom we have already spoken.

In the Movement there are sufferings similar to those of Mary desolate. We have noticed in several members authentic signs of the "night of the spirit," when God permits the terrible trial of feeling abandoned by him, for example, or when faith, hope and charity seem to fade away.

And after the desolation? Mary is at the center of the Upper Room with all her maternal charism toward the apostles, beside Peter whom Jesus had constituted their head.

Mary no longer "follows" Jesus. Now, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, we can say that she is transformed into him. And as another Christ, she too contributes, in her own way, toward the spreading of the Church.

Those who live the spirituality of unity, proportions made, aim at reaching this goal, and they can indeed reach it. This would be the step which the mystics call the "transforming union," when the reality of Martha is joined to Mary: A very special activity for the good of the Church is united to a very special contemplation.

And finally, the Assumption, when God calls Mary to heaven. Only those who have experienced this event know what it is.

Before dying, St. Clare of Assisi said these words: "Go confidently, my soul, because you have a good companion for your journey. Go, because the One who has created you ... has sanctified you ... has loved you tenderly."

"Blessed are you, Lord," she added, "for having created me."

Perhaps she meant to say: because in creating me, you glorified yourself. We could even think that she died out of love.

May heaven grant that something similar, at least, may happen to us! Then we too will rise up to meet with our Mother, our saint, our model, she who on earth was our Head, Queen and Mother.

This is the Via Mariae, a journey which each one takes, although in different ways, depending on each one's response and on the graces that God freely bestows on whomever he wills.

[Translation of Italian original published at http://www.focolare.org/live.]

ZE03050108

Religious Meaning of May 1 Highlighted

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2003 (Zenit.org)

John Paul II highlighted the meaning and importance of May 1, entrusting the world of work to St. Joseph.

"The month of May, consecrated to the Virgin, begins tomorrow. It starts with the feast of St. Joseph the Worker," the Pope said at the end of today's general audience in St. Peter's Square.

"To the Virgin Most Holy, and especially to Joseph, her chaste spouse, we entrust today in particular the world of work," he added. "May he who experienced the exhaustion of daily work be an example and support to those who in their activity attend to the needs of the family and of all the human community."

John Paul II's Pontificate Is 4th Longest in History

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2003 (Zenit.org)

John Paul II's pontificate is now the fourth longest in history, according to the Vatican Information Service (VIS).

When he was elected to the papacy on Oct. 16, 1978, John Paul II became the 263rd successor to St. Peter.

Having just surpassed Pius VI, at 24 years, 6 months, and 8 days, John Paul II's pontificate becomes the fourth longest in Church history. The date is calculated as of Oct. 22, 1978, the solemn inauguration of his papacy.

Only three Roman Pontiffs have now reigned longer than John Paul II. They are Leo XIII (25 years, 5 months), Pius IX (31 years, 7 months, 21 days) and St. Peter (precise dates unknown).

John Paul II has amassed unparalleled statistics, including 98 foreign apostolic trips, VIS reported. This weekend's trip to Spain will be his 99th.

In this almost-quarter-of-a-century reign, the Holy Father has amassed unparalleled statistics, including 98 foreign apostolic trips (the May 3-4 trip to Madrid will be his 99th), and 142 within Italy, not including those to various institutions in his diocese of Rome, for a total of nearly three-quarters of a million miles. He has written 14 encyclicals, 13 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, 42 apostolic letters and 28 Motu proprio. John Paul II has proclaimed 1,314 Blesseds in 138 ceremonies and, as of Sunday, May 4, will have proclaimed 469 Saints in 48 liturgical celebrations. He has held eight consistories for the creation of cardinals and has named a total of 201 cardinals. The last consistory was February 2001. The current College of Cardinals is comprised of 168 members, of whom 112 are eligible to vote in a conclave. Over the years, the Pope has held 1,083 weekly general audiences, including today's audience, and has welcomed nearly 17 million faithful from every part of the world. Other audiences, including various groups and heads of State and government, total just over 1,500. In addition to these figures, Pope John Paul II has achieved many "firsts" in his long reign. To name but a few, he is the first Pope to ever visit a synagogue (Rome, April 1986); to visit a mosque (May 2001, Omayyad Great Mosque of Damascus); to hold press conferences in airplanes and one in the Holy See Press Office (January 24, 1994); to publish books of prose and poetry; to stay at a hotel instead of residing in the apostolic nunciature during his travels (Irshad Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, May 2002); to add five new mysteries to the Rosary (October 2002); to say Mass in an airplane hangar (December 1992, Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport); to call for a Day of Pardon (Jubilee Year 2000). As the most peripatetic Pontiff in history, John Paul II has visited 133 countries, the overwhelming majority of which were welcoming a Pope for the first time. He is also the first Pope: to visit a prison cell (when he spoke in December 1983 with Ali Agca, the Turk who made an attempt on his life in 1981 in St. Peter's Square); to say Mass in the northernmost Catholic community in the world, over 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Polar Circle (Tromso, Norway 1989); to use a letter (the letter "M" for Mary) on his papal crest (normally heraldic rules allow words around a crest, but not on it). JPII-PAPACY/FOURTH LONGEST:STATISTICS/...

Mary and the Rosary in Spotlight at Congress

Focolare Founder, Chiara Lubich, Talks Why Event Came About

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, APRIL 29, 2003 (Zenit.org)

An international Marian congress, organized in this Year of the Rosary by the Focolare Movement, is under way here through Wednesday.

The meeting is spotlighting, among other things, the appreciation of Mary by different churches and Christian communities, as well as the artistic expressions inspired by Jesus' Mother.

The congress is being transmitted live on Internet (http://www.focolare.org/live), as well as by numerous television channels, thanks to the satellites of ESA, Telepace, EWTN and Cancao Nova.

Some 1,400 people are attending the congress, including 20 cardinals and bishops from 80 countries.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, explains the reason for the congress.

Q: What was the idea behind the Marian congress?

Lubich: It all started on Oct. 16, 2002, at the end of the Wednesday audience with the Holy Father, after he signed the apostolic letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae." I was among the 600 or so people of our movement present in St Peter's Square.

On that day he handed me a long letter which, among other things, said: On this occasion I would like to entrust to the Focolarini the rosary ... I am certain that your devotion to the holy Virgin will help you give prominence to the initiative of dedicating the coming year to the rosary.

From that moment on, all over the world, there has been an abundance of ideas to promote the rosary as widely as possible. The Marian congress is one of these activities.

Q: Can you tell us, in a few words, what the three-day program of the congress consists of?

Lubich: There will be reflections on the apostolic letter of the Holy Father on the rosary and on the new Mysteries of Light with testimonies given by families, politicians, consecrated men and women, priests and young people.

There will be two round-table discussions: one dedicated to the various ecclesial movements on the subject of the rosary, and the other dedicated to Christians of other denominations who will comment on the Pope's letter.

The talks will be interspersed with artistic performances and exhibits worthy of honoring Mary, the all-beautiful.

Mass will be celebrated by cardinals and archbishops, among whom are Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, archbishop of Prague; Monsignor Stanislaw Rylko, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; and others.

Q: What relevance do Mary, the rosary and prayer have in today's world?

Lubich: Mary and prayer have an enormous value in our times. There is now a new type of terrorism in the world -- the most terrible -- which could be an effect, as many think, of the presence of Evil with a capital E.

The normal means aren't enough to combat this evil. We have to turn to Good with a capital G, therefore to God and to everything that he represents. This is why prayer is so important; the Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi is one example of this, and so is reciting the rosary.

Today's world is divided between rich and poor, and this is one of the main causes that give rise to terrorism. We are called to work as never before to bring about solidarity, the sharing of goods, universal brotherhood, in order to make humanity one family. Because Mary is the universal Mother, she can give us a hand as no one else can.

Q: What would you say to those who don't believe in prayer and in its effectiveness in everyday life?

Lubich: Usually those who don't believe in prayer have little faith in God. We need to help them rekindle this faith. There are many means at our disposal.

One of the most effective means is the witness that we Christians can give when we love one another. In fact, Christ promised the conversion of the world to those who are united in love. He said: "That all may be one so that the world may believe."

Q: What is the relationship between Mary, with the spiritual life she represents, and the creative work of artists?

Lubich: Artists are predisposed toward creating beautiful things. In fact, I've seen that, for them, if they are believers, the greatest attribute they can give to God is beauty.

It's true that God is Truth, that God is Love, but God is also Beauty. And Mary is the one who is all-beautiful; you could say she is the incarnation of beauty. That's the cause of her relationship with artists and of their relationship with her. They are truly attracted by Mary: They have painted her, sculpted her, sung songs in her honor in all ages and in every imaginable way.

Q: Could you explain the meaning of the title of this congress, "Contemplate Christ Through the Eyes of Mary"?

Lubich: No person has known, or will ever know, Jesus as Mary did, because she is the Immaculate One, she is his Mother; she is a living Gospel, and therefore another Jesus.

In order to see, know and contemplate Jesus through her eyes, we have to try as much as we can to imitate her in her constant yes to the will of God. And in a certain sense, to relive her life in us.

Hope of Heaven Doesn't Dispense Us From Daily Duties, Says Cardinal

Homily at Closing of a Marian Congress

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, APRIL 30, 2003 (Zenit.org)

The hope of heaven does not remove a Christian from his daily commitments in this world, says Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

During the homily of the Mass celebrated on the last day of the international Marian congress entitled "To Contemplate Christ Through the Eyes of Mary," the Vatican secretary of state reflected on the Virgin as "Gate of Heaven."

"The vision of heaven casts a powerful ray of light on our earthly existence ... [but] it should not remove us from our daily commitments," the cardinal said.

"In every Christian the maternal figure of Mary, who awaits us at the gate of heaven, inspires a thought of profound hope and confirms us in our Christian view of life as a pilgrimage toward eternity," he added.

Although "this vision of eternity has been atrophied in part by contemporary culture, Christ's disciples know very well that they are pilgrims on earth," the cardinal said.

Referring to the parable of the talents, Cardinal Sodano explained that "each one of us must make the gifts God has given him come to fruition, to be able to restore them one day a hundredfold."

"Faithfulness to daily duties infuses in the Christian the certainty of doing God's will," he concluded.

From L’Osservatore Romano

Not posted this week.

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Mary in the Secular Press

The director and editors of Mary Page under the auspices of the International Marian Research Institute do not necessarily endorse or agree with the events and ideas expressed in this feature. Our sole purpose is to report on items about Mary gleaned from a myriad of papers representing the secular press.

Religion Versus Science Might Be All In The Mind [Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 4/29/03]

For years now, one small branch of science has been chipping away at the foundations of religious belief by proposing that "otherworldly" experiences are nothing more than the inner workings of the human brain. Many neuroscientists claim they can locate and explain brain functions that produce everything from religious visions to sensations of bliss, timelessness or union with a higher power.

These claims have been strengthened by the work of the Canadian neuropsychologist, Dr Michael Persinger. By stimulating the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, Persinger has been able to induce in hundreds of subjects a "sensed presence" only the subjects themselves are aware of. This presence, Persinger suggests, may be described as Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Muhammad or the Sky Spirit depending on the name the subject's culture has trained him or her to use.

"Neurotheology", as this line of inquiry has been dubbed, has its critics. Some say it fails to distinguish between experiences that contain a moral or spiritual dimension (such as visions of God) from those that don't (such as ghostly perceptions). Others point out that none of this research can ever establish whether our brains have been designed to apprehend religious experiences or whether these are simply the by-product of bad wiring.

But all agree that the approach is far too simplistic. "Where reductionist brain science fails," wrote John Cornwell, director of the Science and Human Dimension Project at Jesus College, Cambridge, earlier this month in The Tablet, the British Catholic weekly, "is in its failure even to mention, let alone give an account of, human imagination.

"This is not to claim that imagination is some kind of Cartesian spooky stuff, or to deny the theory of evolution, or to suggest that imagination is somehow outside the realms of biology, but simply to reflect on the consequences that flow from our ability creatively to compare things in one domain with those in another."

This is the objection addressed in a paper, "Hallucinating God: The Cognitive Neuropsychiatry of Religious Belief and Experience," to be presented at a conference on evolutionary psychology in the United States in August. The paper has been written by Ryan McKay, a researcher at Macquarie University's Centre for Cognitive Science.

McKay says delusional beliefs may arise from so-called religious experiences when two factors are in play: first, a brain deficit that gives rise to an aberrant perception of some kind and second, a belief pathology that interprets (or imagines) this perception in ways inconsistent with what is scientifically plausible or otherwise generally regarded as acceptable.

The second factor represents a breakdown or dysfunction in the way the human belief evaluation system normally operates. Put simply, we tend to evaluate whether a belief is credible in light of everything else we know.

By contrast, when someone experiences an unusual sensory perception and also suspends well-known and widely accepted logical, physical or biological principles in their explanation of the perception, a belief pathology is involved, says McKay. Significantly, one can occur without the other. Persinger, for instance, claims to have had a mystical experience of "encountering a God-like presence" the result of stimulating his temporal lobes electromagnetically without developing a religious belief in God.

He thus represents what McKay calls a "mystical atheist" someone who experiences paranormal sensations but is able to override the evidence of their senses when forming beliefs about them and accepting instead a rational explanation. Clearly, many adherents of religious doctrines develop and maintain their beliefs in the absence of direct religious experiences. An obvious reason is quite simply the effects of socialisation.

But McKay's argument goes to the origin of how such beliefs are generated in the first place. "Individuals with the 'second factor'," he says, "would tend to be misled by untrustworthy sources of information, and/or tend to be prone to having their belief formation systems derailed and overridden by their motives [wish fulfillment being chief among them]. Motives thus help to explain what maintains delusory beliefs once they have been generated by first-factor sources."

The jury is still out on whether such religious experiences are mere delusions and whether God might be nothing more than a hallucination. But the argument for both has just become a lot more interesting.

Statue weeps again [Source: The Advertiser, 4/28/03]

A Virgin Mary statue which apparently wept oily tears last year - and drew thousands of pilgrims to a church near Perth - is claimed to be weeping again.

The 70cm fibreglass statue went on display at Our Lady of Lourdes church at Rockingham in August after claims it began weeping during the feast of St Joseph and over Easter 2002.

Bought in Thailand by parishioner Patty Powell, it attracted worshippers and worldwide attention.

From August 15 last year - the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Our Heaven - it reportedly wept continuously until mid-January.

Annette Maiella of Oakdale [Source: Newsday (NY), 4/27/03]

The head of the Virgin Mary statue was naked. And while raising four children on her bricklayer husband's salary was never easy, Annette Maiella felt compelled to buy a golden, jeweled crown to top it.

"We weren't poor, but I think we were close," her son Jim Maiella said. "She just got it into her head. ... She said, 'I'm going to somehow get her a gold crown.'"

"We still don't know how she managed the money."

Using jewelry donated by family and friends and contributing about $2,000 of her own money, Maiella in 1961 had a Manhattan jeweler create the crown that still sits atop the statue at St. Barnabas Church in Bellmore. It was one of many religiously guided acts in the devout Catholic's life.

Maiella died on Easter Sunday in her Oakdale home after years of failing health. She was 89.

"The fact that she died on Easter Sunday just seems like, 'Of course,'" Jim Maiella of Belle Terre said. "Her religion helped her her whole life."

Until her death, the former president of the Legion of Mary of St. John Nepomucene could often be found praying for her family.

Although her Italian parents were the product of an arranged marriage, Annette Scaturro met her husband of 60 years, Frank Maiella, under more romantic circumstances. It was around 1940 and her sister had pressured her into going to the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. She kept falling on the ice when Frank Maiella swooped her up, relatives said. The two married in 1942 and had four children.

When the family moved to Oakdale in the 1960s, Frank built a backyard grotto - from a collection of rocks the two had gathered on a trip to Italy - facing a statue of the Blessed Mother. The spot would become the center of annual prayer services for 25 years, attended by family, friends and fellow parishioners.

"She always just had such faith," her granddaughter Dina Maiella of Manhattan remembered. "She had such simple answers for so many big things and they were all faith-based."

In addition to her husband, son and granddaughter, Maiella is survived by two other sons, Louis Maiella of Eureka Springs, Ark., and Frank Maiella of Holbrook; a daughter, Lucille Maiella-Havlik of Medford; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Maiella was buried Wednesday at St. John's Cemetery in Bohemia, following a Mass at the church there.

Standing before the mourners at the church, the Rev. Louis Reuss described a woman who, even through financial struggles, put faith first. He told the story of how after Maiella donated the crown, she noticed her husband had itemized it on their taxes.

"She would just not hear of it," Jim Maiella said, remembering her saying, "We did this because we love the Blessed Mother. We didn't do this to reduce our taxes."

Her son chose not to tell her when the crown was stolen a few years back, only to be returned later.

Bishop and mayor to fight in court for Madonna painting 
[Source: The Daily Telegraph (London), 4/26/03]

An Italian bishop is taking the mayor of a Left-wing Tuscan village to court over the future of a unique fresco.

The case, reminiscent of the Don Camillo novels of Giovanni Guareschi, in which the Communists of an imaginary post-war town clash with its defiant priest, centres on a fresco, the Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca.

It is said to be the only religious representation of a pregnant Virgin Mary in existence and is the pride and chief tourist attraction of Monterchi, where it was created in 1460.

The painting remained for five centuries in a church on the edge of town which over the years was partly demolished and turned into a cemetery chapel. Then, in 1993, it was placed in a former school converted into a museum.

Despite the village's isolation, it draws 50,000 visitors a year. But, worried that the fresco was in an unconsecrated building, Bishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Arezzo last year began trying to get the fresco back, saying it was his diocese's property and should once more adorn a church as an object of devotion.

In the best Tuscan tradition, the village has stubbornly refused to part with the masterpiece. After months of failed talks, the bishop has taken the matter to the civil courts.

Yesterday the village council appeared to be maintaining a characteristic lack of concern. "Right up until the end, when the court makes a decision, there is always the chance to strike a deal," said Vittorio Chierroni, the lawyer appointed to defend Monterchi. But lawyers for the other side said that there was "no room left for manoeuvre".

Monterchi's villagers are said to be so fiercely proud of the work that, armed with sticks, they stopped restorers from removing it to safety during the Second World War. The restorers had to be rescued by the local police.

Art Interprets Duality of Jesus, Mary; Debates over human and divine natures have played out in Western art for centuries, as a Getty exhibition illustrates.
[Source: Los Angeles Times, 4/26/03]

In Caravaggio's painting "The Death of the Virgin," the model for Mary was either a drowned prostitute plucked from the Tiber River or a harlot with whom the painter was in love. Or so the legend goes.

What's known for sure is that Caravaggio's commissioned painting, completed in 1603, was rejected by the friars at the Santa Maria della Scala in Rome, who thought it didn't properly reflect the Virgin Mary's divine nature as the mother of Christ.

She lies stiff on her deathbed. Her body is bloated, her feet dirty, her dress and hair disheveled. The picture of a real and mundane human death jarred Catholic officials, conflicting with their increasingly hallowed view of Mary.

Next to the engraving of "The Death of The Virgin" is a Rembrandt etching with the same title, finished 36 years later. It shows a more stately Mary, sitting in a regal bed surrounded by attendants. A light shines from the heavens, giving the pictorial a divine quality, though a doctor taking Mary's pulse hints at her humanness.

For centuries, Christians have wrestled with how to reconcile the two natures of Christ as understood by the church, a savior who is both fully man and fully God.

The debate over the nature of Jesus also spilled into the Christian perceptions of his mother. Catholics teach that Mary was immaculately conceived, and therefore without sin. They also believe she was bodily assumed into heaven three days after her death. Most Protestant churches reject those teachings.

The debates over the nature of Jesus and Mary have played out in Christian theology and in Western art. The latter aspect of the debate is the focus of an exhibition of 30 works, including the Caravaggio and the Rembrandt, now at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

"Between Heaven and Earth: Images of Christ and the Virgin," illustrates creative ways artists have dealt with the difficult issues surrounding the human and divine natures of the two figures at the center of Christian belief.

"With modern art, some people ask, 'What's the point?' " said Stephanie Schrader, co-curator of the exhibit, which runs through June 29. "These works were meant to be compelling, convincing and something that supported a particular set of beliefs."

Taking images from its own collection, the Getty show uses artists' depictions of the final days on earth of Jesus and Mary. Some of the works have been acquired by the museum and the Getty Research Institute within the last two years.

The drawings, prints and illustrated books are arranged in major categories, including the transfiguration, the agony in the garden, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the death and assumption of the Virgin Mary. The groupings are accompanied by the passage of Scripture if there's a description of the event in the Bible.

In images reflecting the divine, Jesus is idealized with a perfect body and a serene countenance, often floating above the crowd.

In the engraving "The Resurrection" by Schelte Adams Bolswert, taken from an altarpiece by Peter Paul Rubens, Christ's body is surrounded by a halo as he steps triumphantly from the tomb, holding a banner declaring the Resurrection.

The sight "elicits a variety of responses from the soldiers, who cower, flee or gaze with rapt attention," said co-curator Louis Marchesano.

By contrast, in "The Agony of the Garden," French painter and draftsman Carle Vanloo shows a very human Jesus fainting at the thought of his impending death, his body supported by two angels.

The curators say the exhibit is meant, not to raise theological issues, but rather to demonstrate how the debate within Christianity played out among Renaissance and baroque artists who brought the beliefs and doctrines of their church to the masses. Catholics leaned toward the divine interpretation of Mary's and Jesus' nature and Protestants tended to depict their humanity.

How-to manuals were produced for artists who wanted to produce well-received biblical and religious depictions. Featured in the exhibit is one such book, "Theology for Painters, Sculptors, Engravers and Draftsmen," published in Paris in 1765.

Author Joseph Mery del la Canorgue, a Catholic, tells artists, "If there is a mystery, in effect, susceptible to striking images and beauties of all kinds, it is, without contradiction, the triumph of the mother of a god." "These books tried to get artists to follow doctrines that were sanctioned by the church," Marchesano said.

A cheaply produced booklet on display gives an account of Christ's death and resurrection, something that was read by common Romans who filled the Colosseum each Easter weekend. The booklet includes illustrations that are crude, but still get the church's teachings across to the citizenry.

"The images circulated to all levels of society," Marchesano said. "They taught you stories from the Bible and how to behave."

Taking Jesus as Spouse, and Living a Life in Prayer [Source: New York Times, 4/26/03]

As Kathleen Danes prepares to become a June bride, in her bedroom closet hangs her gown, in a shade of sky blue. It is not that Ms. Danes is ineligible for virginal white. Quite the contrary; at her church ceremony, she will formally become a consecrated virgin wedded to Jesus Christ. She chose that hue, she said, because it was the color worn by the Virgin Mary.

"At this consecration, the greatest, most important celebration of my life, I want to feel close to my spouse's mother," said Ms. Danes, 62, who will participate in an ancient and little-known Roman Catholic rite called the Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World. "There is no better way to reach the heart of Jesus than through his most holy mother."

When Ms. Danes, the sacristan at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Lighthouse Point, Fla., is consecrated in the Archdiocese of Miami, she will join a tiny but growing number of consecrated virgins around the nation. The rite allows women to be publicly recognized as living a life of prayer and devotion while living in society rather than as nuns.

To become a bride of Jesus Christ, a woman must have never married and must demonstrate a life of chastity and devotion to the church. There is no age requirement, although some dioceses prescribe a minimum age like 30. Consecrated virgins have no formal obligations besides daily prayer, but they typically engage in service to the church. There is no equivalent vocation for men.

Loretta Matulich, a consecrated virgin from Oregon City, Ore., and president of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, said there were at least 100 consecrated virgins in the United States, up from about 20 in 1995. In just the last year, about 15 women around the nation were consecrated, and in the next six months, another 15 will be, Ms. Matulich said.

Ms. Matulich said that although she was drawn to a religious life, becoming a nun was not her calling.

"I knew from childhood that I wanted to give my entire life to Jesus Christ in love," she said, "but I also knew that I wanted to teach in the public schools and live and work with a variety of people from all walks of life."

In Los Angeles in the 1950's, when Ms. Matulich considered the sisterhood, nuns did not teach in public schools or live and work outside Catholic institutions, she said.

"So I waited until God would show me where I fit," she said. "I found the exact fit in consecrated virginity lived in the world."

Awareness of the consecration has spread through word of mouth and articles, and many women say they are pleasantly surprised to learn of its existence.

"I lived for 21 years without any real contact with other consecrated virgins," said Ms. Matulich, who was consecrated in 1974 and formerly taught at a community college in Oregon City. She met only two until she attended an international conference of consecrated virgins in 1995 in Rome, which led to the start of her organization.

"I was prepared to go to my dying day without ever meeting another consecrated virgin," she said.

About 1,400 consecrated virgins live in other countries, Ms. Matulich said.

Why are there so few in the United States?

"In popular American culture, the word 'virginity' is not attractive," said Bishop Raymond L. Burke of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., the moderator of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins. "When I talk to groups about consecrated virgins living in the world, I sometimes see lay people snickering, even in church circles. In contemporary culture, the idea of being a virgin is not prized anymore, it's not esteemed, it's not cool, it's like, 'Who cares?' "

Judith Stegman, 47, of Haslett, Mich., said that while preparing invitations to her consecration years ago, she told a friend that her title would be "consecrated virgin living in the world." Her friend responded, "You're going to say something more tactful, aren't you?"

Ms. Stegman said: "I changed the wording on the invitation to something like 'celibacy.' I didn't use 'virgin.' Even I was embarrassed."

"Later I challenged myself to get used to it, even if people were embarrassed," she said. "I wanted to be proud of it. I went the other way, using it frequently. Saying the word 'virgin' about yourself immediately gets the conversation going."

Becoming a consecrated virgin "promotes the dignity of women," Bishop Burke said. "It's a very radical act of free will, giving yourself completely to Christ. If you're a consecrated virgin, you're certainly going to be countercultural. People will be questioning, what in the world have you done? You have to be prepared to give an account of the whole meaning of the vocation."

The consecration may date from as early as the first century. It fell into disuse by the 10th century but was restored by Pope Paul VI in 1970, Ms. Matulich said.

To educate church audiences and members of the clergy about the vocation, Ms. Stegman, on behalf of the virgins association, is coordinating with the Diocese of Lansing, Mich., to create a half-hour documentary about consecrated virginity.

Like Ms. Stegman, who is an accountant and president of her firm, many consecrated virgins mix lives of devotion with secular jobs. At work, "I meet clients all day long, who may not see that I have a rosary, icon and candle on my desk," she said. "But I can see it, and I can say a quick prayer for myself or the client across from me. That's a key part of my day."

At day's end, "after my last client has left, I close my office door and clear my desk of clients' tax returns," Ms. Stegman said. "And I recite the evening prayer."

"It's just catching those moments, taking the time to make that connection with my spouse, who is Christ," she added. "That's where I'm drawing my main support in life, just as some people go home to their spouse for support."

In Brief [Source: The Washington Post, 4/26/03]

The Vatican has confirmed a decision by Baltimore Cardinal William H. Keeler to stop prayer services that drew hundreds to worship with a woman who said she was receiving messages from the Virgin Mary.

Keeler appointed three priests to investigate the claims of Gianna Talone-Sullivan, known as "Our Lady of Emmitsburg," who held prayer meetings weekly at St. Joseph Church in Emmitsburg before the archdiocese banned them in 2000.

The visions were not supernatural or miraculous and contained "negative" elements of apocalyptic prophecies, Keeler's panel found.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a letter to Keeler, said Keeler may officially announce the visions were definitively not supernatural. Ratzinger's commission [the CDF] was formed by the pope in 1542 to be arbiters of Catholic teachings and to review claims of visions, divine messages and miracles.

Keeler reported the Vatican's confirmation in a letter April 2 to the Rev. William O'Brien, pastor of the Emmitsburg church. Keeler told the priest that the ruling should "relieve the doubts of the faithful regarding the alleged apparitions and any public dissemination of their message."

Keeler's panel, after interviewing worshipers who attended the services and conducting a 16-month investigation, wrote that with a worldwide "growing addiction to the spectacular, we think that the Church should not promote or encourage persons claiming to have extraordinary channels to God."

Keeler's commission wrote that there were "impressive results" from some of the Talone-Sullivan sessions. Some people converted, more people participated in confession, and there were physical and spiritual healings, the priests said.

But the panel also noted that Talone-Sullivan's proclamations included "apocalyptic forebodings and the prediction of catastrophic events," such as the death of all the fish in the world.

O'Brien referred all comment to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Talone-Sullivan didn't return a call to her home yesterday.

Art of the FAITHFUL [Source: St. Petersburg Times (Florida), 4/20/03]

As much as theologians try to explain it and artists try to put a face on it, faith remains a mystery.

"Icons/Santos: Images of Devotion," a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, shows us how intense is that longing of the faithful for a connection with the ineffable, and how the church as an institution has often attempted to emphasize that sense of mystery with barriers physical and philosophical to keep worshippers at a distance.

The show is divided into two parts. One displays icons and other religious objects, most of them from Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. The other displays the Central American religious statues and images known as santos and retablos, and it explores the melding of the Catholic faith with indigenous traditions after the Spanish conquest of that region.

The first section is the most dramatic, owing to an enormous mahogany iconostasis installed with the art. An iconostasis is the wooden wall that separates the altar from the main interior of an Orthodox church, usually distinguished by elaborate carving.

This iconostasis was commissioned by St. Mark Orthodox Church in Bradenton for its new building and is on loan to the museum before its consecration in the church. It's so big, it had to be divided into three sections. The massive arch was fitted into the entrance of the Mackey Gallery, its doors positioned just inside, and the two wall panels are a bit farther into the gallery.

It's a dramatic, telescopic effect that draws visitors into the show, quite the opposite of its intended purpose, which is to separate worshippers from the altar, the most sacred part of the church. There, priests perform holy rituals, so the separation originally was intended, in part, to generate mystery and awe among the faithful.

The wall's level of craftsmanship - all hand carved, no laser cuts - is rarely seen anymore, and it is a marvel to view at close range. Inserted into the panels are paintings, in the iconic tradition, of saints, the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, and panels depicting important moments in the life of Christ.

The substance of the show, though, is the collection of icons, most from 19th century Russia. Their general sameness is the essence of iconic art, which began in the early centuries A.D. Stylistically, icons are associated with Byzantine art, named for Byzantium, the capital city of Constantine the Great's empire. (Later renamed Constantinople, the city fell to the Turks in 1453 and is now Istanbul.) Icons are flat, without any attempt at fool-the-eye perspective, and the subject matter, always religious portraits or scenes depicting meaningful spiritual moments, is rendered with almost unvarying detail.

There were good reasons for these conventions. The main purpose of icons was to help worshippers make a direct connection with the holy. Worshippers believed in the power of the saints, the Virgin Mary and Christ to intercede with God for almost anything, to intervene in mortal lives and sometimes to produce miracles. Icons gave these Christians a sense of real connection with the holy ones, but to avoid any hint of idolatry, they had to be prototypes, without variation or artistic interpretation. God was never an icon because it would be blasphemous to personify the supreme deity. Also, iconic images had to be recognizable by their features to a population that was generally illiterate (labels or commentary would be useless), and the same visual clues accompanied each figure.

So we see in all the icons of St. Nicholas, chief patron saint of Russia whom we in the United States associate with Christmas, the same high forehead and curly, slightly fussy hair. The Vladimir Mother of God icon, painted in the Ukraine in the 19th century, is almost identical to one painted in the 12th century from Constantinople. And the 19th century Mother of God was even repainted over an older one that had faded, its original paint still visible on some parts of the wood panel. This sort of copying and overpainting would be considered taboo by the standards of Western art, but it is acceptable in an icon whose purpose was purely functional, not aesthetic. Until the late 19th century, most were unsigned, the work of anonymous laymen or monks.

Another convention was the oklad, a cover that shrouded most of the icon to protect it from too much veneration (it was customary to kiss the image) and sometimes to mute the power of these "windows into heaven." An oklad was often more elaborate than the icon, made of gilded silver and encrusted with precious jewels.

The exhibition includes examples of portable icons, carried for protection and special blessings; a display explaining the process of painting an icon onto a wood panel; and an example of a fake icon, painted in the 20th century to look old and identifiable as a fake because St. Nicholas is holding a copy of the gospel with his bare hands. In old versions he would always cover his hand with a cloth, out of respect.

The santos and retablos in an adjoining gallery are humbler conduits of devotion. Like icons, they are depictions of holy personages who could comfort, assist, forgive and work miracles but were created without the dogmatic restrictions imposed on icons.

The santos, carved and painted wood statues, and retablos, images painted on tin or display cases, were a way for native Central Americans to reconcile the Catholic faith with their ancient myths. Like icons, the individual images usually were portrayed with the same details. Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example, probably the most beloved religious image in Mexico, is always recognizable because she is accompanied by a crescent moon and stars, apocalyptic images from the Bible as well as familiar elements in native cosmology. San Pasquale is a crowned skeleton, the Christian version of the Mayan lord of the underworld and a prominent character in the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

These Central American artifacts share with icons a preference for stylization over naturalistic representation. And, like icons, they were not created to express an individual artistic vision, though they have a spontaneous exuberance that the studied, formal compositions of icons lack, a sense of personality that icons were forbidden to have.

Icon or santo, created for a cathedral in Russia or a hut in Guatemala, these objects were imbued by those who venerated them with the power to bring their god and themselves together in a communion of shared faith.

Review

"Icons/Santos: Images of Devotion" is at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Dr. NE, St. Petersburg, through June 15. Also on view are "The Power and Passion of Dance: The Carol Halsted Dance Photography Collection" and "A Sense of Place: Still Life and Other Photographs by D.W. Mellor." Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8. (727) 896-2667.

Book Review; Pilgrimages into and away from belief 
[Source: Los Angeles Times, 4/15/03]

If, as she was once told by an Episcopal bishop, the idea of pilgrimage is an attempt to "invite into our hearts what we know in our heads," then the disparate journeys undertaken by Rosemary Mahoney in her travelogue-memoir "The Singular Pilgrim" are successful in different ways, inviting into her heart aspects of herself and her struggles with belief that previously were known to her intellect alone. Though religion plays a part in her searching, the excursions are as much into the human condition and the traits we hold in common as they are reaches toward divine awareness.

Mahoney, author of the 1993 book "Whoredom in Kimmage: Irish Women Coming of Age," considers herself a religious skeptic. She no longer follows the Roman Catholicism of her youth and isn't quite sure she believes in God at all, yet at the same time yearns for the kind of faith she witnesses in others. Watching Greek Orthodox pilgrims make their way on hands and knees to venerate an icon, she is touched by what she sees, even as her cynicism flares. "I am attached to reason and am not easily awed by the miraculous powers of the Virgin Mary, but I was awed by her pilgrims," she writes. "It wasn't their religion that interested me so much as their faith, that palpable surge of the soul."

After years of being an outsider to religion, Mahoney undertakes six pilgrimages, aware that her disbelief may interfere with what she hopes will be a transformative experience. At first she hides behind her curiosity and her stance as a writer. But the journeys wear on, each more physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding, until the act itself changes her, stripping away some of her hesitation and dilating her willingness to believe.

She visits France's Lourdes, in whose grotto Our Lady is said to have appeared to St. Bernadette; the spring water there is rumored to have healing properties. "Some 400,000 people take the baths each year," she reports, and she joins in, shocked by the frigid water. Mahoney then walks Spain's 475-mile "Camino de Santiago" over the course of 23 grueling days, unsure of her real motive, only that she needs to do it. Meeting odd characters, encountering stunning countryside, enduring blisters and tendonitis severe enough to require a hospital visit, she finds a quiet kind of peace. "The best parts of these long days were the stretches when I was alone, thinking and listening to the steady rhythm of my own footsteps trailing me like a heartbeat."

On the west bank of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, the holy Hindu city, she makes friends with an intelligent boy who's trying to scrape together a living in the poverty-stricken region. "Under the circumstances, a mind as sharp as his seemed almost a curse," she laments. Ultimately, she realizes that her time spent with the boy is the most sacred aspect of her journey. This is a trait common to her six pilgrimages: The people she meets and the difficulties she endures enrich her life more than her stops at holy places.

In the Holy Land she stays in Nazareth, looking for signs of Jesus, and is surprised by her reaction to the landscape. "Being here in Galilee had not made Jesus bigger in my mind; instead, it had brought him down to human size, and that small size in turn made him great."

A tiny island on Lough Derg, Ireland, is the location of Mahoney's final pilgrimage, an arduous scripted ordeal filled with fasting, an all-night vigil, countless Hail Marys and Our Fathers while walking barefoot and kneeling at preordained places. It is at this site, a place of penance for more than 1,000 years, as Mahoney is put through her paces with physical hardships, that her resistance to faith peels away and she floats, if only for a few moments, on the current of belief. "I had never imagined I would find myself on my knees with a rosary in my fingers, pressing out the Hail Mary. But having come and submitted myself to the stations of Lough Derg, I was a noisy tom-tom of intentions, drumming out messages and sending them sailing over the water."

Her essays, filled with rich detail and lyric writing, speak to the human desire to believe in something, even when religious faith seems untenable, and of the need to take action toward that belief. Time and again, Mahoney continues putting one foot in front of the other, circuitously approaching the faith she admires while casting to the side (without completely dismissing) her cynicism. Ultimately, this walking carries her from skepticism to a consoling kind of belief -- if not in a specific religion then in the human struggle to survive and flourish.

*

'The Singular Pilgrim'

Travels on Sacred Ground

Rosemary Mahoney

Houghton Mifflin: 416 pp., $25

Atheists gather in Tampa for international convention [Source: AP, 4/18/03]

What else would a bunch of atheists do on Good Friday?

Besides the speeches and panel discussions scheduled for their annual convention here this weekend, members of the Atheist Alliance International took a side trip Friday to see a religious "miracle" - the famous Clearwater building where believers say they can see an image of the Virgin Mary.

Christians flocked to the building by the thousands in 1996 when a rainbow-colored stain appeared on its two-story glass wall that resembled a shrouded Virgin Mary. Pilgrims still visit the site, which is now rented and maintained by an Ohio ministry.

"I've had the same sort of thing happen on my windows, but I've never called everyone to come around and see it," scoffed James Randi, a magician and renowned debunker of psychics and faith healers. "I'm never astonished at anything that people will seize upon as a miracle."

Randi's reaction was typical of the 50 or so from the group who milled around inside the fenced site Friday, taking snapshots of each other in front of the building. A towering crucifix has been erected next to it, as well as an altar for the dozens of candles worshippers leave behind.

Glass experts who analyzed the image said it was created by a chemical reaction and corrosion of the metallic elements in the glass coating, but they could not explain why it took the shape it did.

"The bigger miracle was the Bucs winning the Super Bowl," quipped Bobbie Kirkhart, the group's president.

"It looks like Marge Simpson, actually," offered Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptics magazine, referring to the animated matriarch of "The Simpsons" TV show.

About 200 people from the alliance's 42 member societies are expected to attend this weekend's sessions to hear from Randi, Shermer and other nonbelievers, and focus their national agenda of church-state separation issues.

Other highlights include talks by British scientist, author and atheist Richard Dawkins, and Michael Newdow, who will discuss his successful campaign to eliminate the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance in his daughter's Sacramento, Calif., school.
In a case that bitterly divided the nation and the federal judiciary, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Newdow's favor last summer, declaring that use of the pledge in public schools violates the Constitution. It said use of the words "under God" amounts to a government endorsement of religion.

Atheists believe organized religion suppresses science and education and persuades people to waste their time on earth preparing for an afterlife that doesn't exist.

The conventioneers say being with other atheists for the weekend is refreshing because there aren't too many of them around.

"We live in a context that frequently portrays (atheism) as the absence of values," said Dale McGowan, an atheist who teaches at a small Catholic college in Minneapolis. "And it's very satisfying to surround yourself with people who also see it as an expression of positive values, instead of the negation of something else."

Said Newdow: "There's always some comfort being with people who believe the same things. I actually prefer being with people who disagree, though. I like to argue."

After the atheists departed Friday, Paul Caissie busied himself straightening the candles, post cards and framed photos of the Virgin Mary image that he sells on behalf of the landlord, Shepherds of Christ Associates. He said he didn't mind that they came to take a look.

"This is for everybody," he said. "Jesus gave them the grace to come here. If nothing happens to them here, then He works in their heart."

Seattle Art Museum restoring 15th century painting found at Seattle cathedral 
[Source: AP, 4/14/03]

The big painting - a devotional work awash with gold leaf that depicts the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus flanked by six saints - dates from the mid-1400s, when it was produced in Florence by Neri diBicci, a popular artist of the day.

How it wound up at St. James Cathedral, the heart of Seattle's Roman Catholic archdiocese, is anybody's guess.

"We know where it was 500 years ago," said church administrator Larry Brouse. "Between now and then? No."

Checks with Interpol and the Art-Loss Registry turned up no reports that it had been stolen or lost, he said.

The painting, probably a gift to the church in the 1930s or '40s, was first displayed here after a 1950s renovation of the 1907 cathedral designed - in the Renaissance style - by the New York firm of Heins and LaFarge, which also designed the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

After a 1992 arson fire, the painting was removed for cleaning and research that determined its surprising origins.

Now it's undergoing a full-blown restoration by the Seattle Art Museum's chief painting conservator, Nick Dorman - a major undertaking and one of the first to be tackled by SAM's brand-new conservation studio.

In exchange, St. James will lend it to SAM for display next spring with a collection of smaller religious works from the Renaissance.

"They're very small, like fragments of altar pieces,' Dorman said. "This piece" - roughly 4 feet high and 5 feet wide - "has a bit of scale, a bit more impact. We think we can use that to bring out our pieces."

Works this old "all have the tracks of history on them," he said. The diBicci "actually has some candle burns from when it was in Italy and they had the candles right in front of the altarpiece."
After the outing at SAM, the diBicci will be returned to the church in time for St. James' centennial.

The church is also contributing to an infrared camera - used to see through paintings to the underlying pencil drawings - for SAM's conservation studio, a more lasting alternative to "somebody just writing a check," Brouse said.

An infrared camera is "something we'd love to be able to offer - both to ourselves and the rest of the community," said Dorman, who signed on with SAM last year after a stint with the national art collection in Munich, Germany.

He's been consulting with colleagues in the Northwest, New York and in Europe on this project. Earlier this year, the diBicci was hauled up to Virginia Mason Medical Center for X-rays, so Dorman and his colleagues could glean as much information as possible about it.

The painting is on four horizontal poplar planks more than an inch thick, glued together and possibly secured by small dowels. It was produced in the Florence studio run by third-generation painter Neri diBicci, who also wrote an art history that helped confirm its origins.

"He wasn't one of the great innovators" whose names are better known, Dorman said. "In some senses, they're sort of workaday paintings, but they were very competent, very popular, very successful."

The Virgin is seated, her baby in her lap. She is flanked by Saints Luke, Bartholomew, Lawrence, John the Baptist, Martin and Sebastian. Each saint is accompanied by a symbol to recall his history: St. Bartholomew, who was flayed, carries a knife; St. Lawrence, roasted alive, a metal grill; St. Sebastian, martyred with arrows, holds one.

"Most people then were illiterate," and such works were used to educate, Brouse said. "That's what stained glass and carvings in churches are all about."

Such works "were very fashionable in the 19th century," Dorman said. "It possibly came to the United States then and was owned by a private person who gave it to the church."

It's in remarkably good shape, he said, but the past 5 1/2 centuries have taken their toll.

Woodworm damage can be seen around the unpainted edges where the original frame was attached and has undermined small areas in the body of the work, leaving little for the paint to cling to.

At some point, the top plank broke off - a break that runs through the faces of the saints.

When the board was glued back on, the join was leveled out with some sort of putty and the faces repainted somewhat crudely with pigment that has since turned dark brown.

Portions of the painting cleaned recently by Dorman and in tests after the 1992 fire reveal the saints' original pale skin color - a startling difference.
The contrast suggests the overpainting may have been done many years ago, and discolored since.

"It can't always have looked that inappropriate. You wouldn't have just done that and left it," Dorman said.

"What we recovered underneath is paint that is pretty much in perfect condition. ... It's a much more subtle painting," with delicate detail in the emerging faces.

"The original work has such brilliant colors - it's amazing," Brouse said.

"I get frustrated when I get something that's been so changed through restoration and conservation," Dorman said. "But to be fair, I'm sure there are instances where we wouldn't have those paintings if that hadn't been done."

Nowadays, museum experts try to to keep restoration changes to a minimum, using mostly natural materials - matching the originals where possible.

"It's a struggle, and everybody makes mistakes," Dorman said.

The background is gilded, as are the haloes and some decorative work on the eight figures. New gilding has been added over the centuries, along with a yellowy oil glaze.

When the gilding is cleaned, it will be "very, very bright," Dorman said.

The glaring gold will have to be balanced against the blue in the Virgin's gown and other colors that have darkened over time, "so it retains a degree of harmony."

"The ideal thing is if you can work on it and it doesn't look like a freshly restored painting," he said. "That's my objective."

Enthronement rites [Source: Business World (Philippines), 4/24/03]

A solemn enthronement ceremony of Our Lady of Guadalupe was held at the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral on April 22, officiated by Reverend Bishop Teodoro J. Buhain, Jr. and Monsignor Nestor Cerbo, Rector of Manila Cathedral. On the occasion of the celebration of the 50th year of Filipino- Mexican diplomatic relations, and in recognition of the great devotion of the Filipinos to Our Lady of Guadalupe, CEMEX Philippines, one of the three largest producers of cement in the world, donated two digitalized laser true copies of the original portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe (measuring 1.72m x 1.07m) to the Archdiocese of Manila and Archdiocese of Cebu. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the only true self-portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is likewise the patron saint of mothers and the unborn child, proof of her being the pillar of strength of every family. Enthronement ceremony for Our Lady of Guadalupe is also scheduled at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral on May 7 at 6:30 p.m.

PLUMBER CARVES BUSINESS OUT OF CHRIST STATUES
[Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4/20/03]

While sculpture tides him over during the year, it is during Lent that this former plumber earns the most from his images of Jesus Christ and other characters involved in His sufferings and crucifixion.

Ramon Vibar, 48, has been engaged in this craft for almost 15 years. His products include images of various sizes like the Santo Nino, Virgin Mary, angels, and popular saints and he sells them to customers from as far away as the United States and Australia.

"Most orders coming in are for images of saints and Christ, which I really love to work on," Vibar tells SundayBiz, saying he feels as if he's blessed every time he works on these images. Early orders of sculptured images for this year's Lenten season started to pour in as early as October last year.

"As much as possible, they need to order six months before the occasion, so that I could already estimate the time I need to spend on each piece," he explains.

He proudly says he has always met his clients' deadline, which means that he has to work overtime just to get the work done.

He uses different materials such as wood, cement or marble depending on the customer's preference and budget.

And depending on the size and the materials used, the price per image ranges from P10,000 to P85,000.

Tedious part

Vibar says sculpting the eyes of the image is the most difficult part of the process.

"When you make the eyes and these don't fit the image, then the whole thing will be useless, so I need to be very careful in making them," he explained.
The eyes are usually made from crystal, which his men melt and then mold into the desired shape to fit a certain figure. They can also make the statue's head and eyes move to make the figure more lifelike.

Destiny

Vibar says he never thought that he would end up making a living out of this craft, which he learned from his late father.

"I had no interest in it when I was just a kid, unlike my father who learned how to carve when he was four," he admits.

He says he only started helping his father in the business when he was already 33 years old since all 11 children ventured to different fields with him deciding to become a plumber.

The desire to earn more, however, forced him to take up sculpture as an additional source of income.

"I needed to look for an outlet to earn for my family, since I was already a family man at that time, so I decided to help in my father's art shop," he says, adding, "I was encouraged since I saw how my father earned from it and I have no regrets now," Vibar stresses.

He says it is probably his destiny to be a sculptor.

"I knew even before that I could do what my father was doing but it was just that I did not have the heart for it before," he explains.

Own shop

When his father passed away in 2000, Ramon continued the tradition and put up his own art shop.

Equipped with excellent training from his late father, he shortly became a force to reckon with in the image-carving world. His first product was an image of the Santo Nino.

"Designing these images gives me sense of fulfillment," he says with a smile.

"I know my father is happy about what's going on now, because the job that helped raise us did not end when he passed away," he says.

Tradition

Vibar and his workers have become part of the tradition during Lenten season, with their works being displayed and playing an important role in the traditional procession held during Good Friday.
He says almost 75 percent of the images on different karos (carts) that join in parade or procession during Holy week, came from their sweat.

"I'm very proud, especially when I already see our works on the streets during Good Friday," the sculptor says.

Vibar adds that many images of saints, Jesus Christ and other Holy personalities in different churches in the Bicol region came from his shop.

No miracle

As an expert in his own field, Vibar says he personally does not believe in crying images or images whose eyes shed blood.

"Even my late father who was in the industry for almost his life never believed in that. And that's our personal opinion," he stresses. "One can simply make the image cry and make people believe it's a miracle."

The real miracle is being able to carve magnificent images out of perseverance, patience and God-given talent.

Giotto's Lamentation plays down the tears 
[Source: The Hamilton Spectator (Toronto, Ontario), 4/19/03]

Lamentation over Christ

Giotto di Bondone (1266? - 1337)

Wall painting

circa 1305

185 by 200 centimetres

Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

The earliest scenes of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of Christ are meant to make viewers weep. But Giotto di Bondone takes a more balanced approach, playing down the grief and emphasizing hope. His Lamentation, painted around 1305, reminds us of Christ's imminent Resurrection.

Giotto, already a famous Florentine artist, was commissioned by Enrico Scrovegni, one of Padua's wealthiest citizens, to paint the interior of his newly built chapel. Giotto depicted about 40 scenes from the life of Christ and that of his mother, most of them arranged in three rows on the north and south walls. The Lamentation is on the north wall.

Scenes of the Lamentation -- Pieta in Italian, Pity in medieval English -- show the moment after Christ's body has been taken down from the cross and given to his mother for her final farewell. This event is not described in the Gospels. It does not appear in the early repertoire of Christian art, but becomes popular by the 12th century.

Most medieval Lamentations, both painted and sculptural, aim to provoke an emotional reaction in the viewer. Giotto, however, wants the viewer to mourn less and look ahead to the Resurrection, the central teaching of Christianity.

He achieves this in two ways. First, he tones down the emotional impact that the main figures -- the Virgin Mary and her dead son -- have on the viewer. Second, the Lamentation's relationship to other scenes in the chapel sends a message of life after death.

A large and varied group of mourners, male and female, human and divine, have gathered around the Virgin Mary and the dead Christ. The bleak, rocky landscape points to Christ's burial shortly thereafter in a nearby cave.

While all the figures look toward Christ and the Virgin Mary, they are also there to pull the viewer away from this pair. This visual tug-of-war means that Christ and his grieving mother do not dominate.

This tug-of-war begins as soon as we enter the work, approaching from the preceding scene on our left. The first figure we encounter is a veiled female mourner, seated in the left foreground with her back to us.

Figures with faces engage the viewer. This faceless woman rendered as a solid, sculptural mass feels like a wall which momentarily pushes us out. Pushing the viewer out is a traditional way of creating a kind of emotional time-out for the viewer between scenes.

On re-entering, we see that the seated mourner holds Christ's head in her hands. So we move rightward to the Virgin and her dead son.

Mary embraces her son sitting on the ground, supporting his upper body on her knees. His shoulders rest on her right knee, his waist on her left leg. Her braided hair is slightly disheveled in the traditional manner of a mourner. Her furrowed brow and tightly set mouth speak of grief.

She leans over Christ and places her face close to his. At first glance, this position looks intimate enough. But to a contemporary viewer, accustomed to Lamentations in which the faces of mother and son touch, it would have felt restrained.

The Virgin might have already kissed Christ or be about to do so, but Giotto has chosen not to depict her during a mother's most heartbreaking moment, when she kisses her child for the last time. So the artist has not raised the emotional temperature as high as we might expect.

As we linger on the faces of Christ and his mother, we are constantly distracted by the seated mourner on the left because of her hands under his head. Also, both the mourner and the Virgin Mary are placed directly in front of two standing mourners. This encourages the viewer to move upward.

In moving up, we encounter a group of 10 female mourners, all in varied positions. The woman standing at the front has an expressive face and gesture. Her mouth is slightly open and she raises her hands, palms facing forward, in grief or prayer.

The veiled woman in green beside her is also distracting, as are, to a lesser degree, three other women with sorrowful faces.

All these women look downward so we can return to the mother and son. But we can just as easily go back to the mourners.

A similar back-and-forth movement involves the three women and three men on the other side of the composition. In the foreground, a woman wearing a green cloak and white veil holds Christ's right wrist. She has her back to us in a pose that mirrors the first mourner we encountered on the left.

She is linked to two other female mourners because she overlaps them. A woman with a pale blue cloak over her head holds Christ's left wrist and Mary Magdalene supports his feet.

Christ, whom we take in as we move among the seated women, looks more heroic than pathetic. This is not the helpless Christ that artists use to provoke weeping. That type is usually shown with closed eyes and blood flowing from his wounds. Giotto's Christ has his eyes open, which refers to his imminent victory over death. And only one of his five wounds is visible, on his right foot.

A man in a pale red garment stands immediately behind the blue-cloaked woman. He's been identified as John, one of Christ's 12 apostles. With eyes closed and mouth slightly open, he leans and stretches out both arms behind him. His gesture is appropriate to mourning, but it also has the effect of pushing us to the right and pointing to two more apostles.

John also draws us upward since he stands in front of a rocky hill which winds its way up on a diagonal to the right. There a tree, bare but about to flourish, grows out of the rock, symbolizing life after death.

Above the mortal mourners, 10 small angels hover in a variety of grieving attitudes. They contribute to the sorrowful mood, but like almost everyone in the painting, they also distract the viewer from the Virgin Mary and her son.

Visual parallels with other scenes reinforce the message of new life. For example, the trio of mourner, dead Christ and grieving mother in the Lamentation echoes the midwife, newborn Christ and mother in the Nativity on the south wall. In both groups, the two women hold the reclining Christ, whose head is below and between theirs. In the Nativity, as in the Lamentation, Giotto shows a moment before or after a more intimate maternal gesture -- the Virgin's face does not touch Christ's.

The Lamentation is placed between the Crucifixion and Resurrection on the north wall. This is the chronological order, of course, but this order was not always followed in church decoration. Giotto's placement of the Lamentation underlines its close association, not just to death, but to the Resurrection. So while the event inspires grief, it also conveys hope.

Regina Haggo, a former professor of art history at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dundas Valley School of Art. You can contact her at dhaggo@thespec.com.

Papal visit to Russia possible "in near future": Russian PM 
[Source: Agence France Presse, 4/22/03]

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Tuesday he believed a visit to Russia by Pope John Paul II was possible "in the near future," but a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox church reminded him sharply that its approval would be necessary.

"This is not a decision to be taken at government level, but we hope to receive the pope in the near future," Kasyanov told reporters during a visit to the northern city of Rybinsk, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Vatican authorities have said they could include a stopover by the pope in the Russian city of Kazan, 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of Moscow, when he travels to Mongolia in August.

The visit would enable the pope to return the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, one of the most venerated icons of the Virgin Mary in the Orthodox Church, stolen from the city in 1904 and which found its way to the Vatican. Kasyanov has strongly backed the pope's declared wish to visit Russia and said during a visit to Rome last week that his government was working actively to heal a rift between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church.

His latest comments came after a Moscow patriarchate spokesman on Monday said he hoped Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would help to resolve the differences between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.

Berlusconi told Kasyanov on Friday that he had requested a meeting with Patriarch Alexy II with a view to preparing a possible papal visit to Russia.

The Moscow patriarchate said it had not been informed of the proposed visit and made clear that it would not approve of one until formal negotiations were held.

Spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said on Monday he hoped Berlusconi might contribute to easing differences, though no request for a meeting with the patriarch had been received.

"The future of our relations lies with the Vatican. We hope that everyone interested in their positive development, including the prime minister, will persuade the Vatican to take concrete steps to resolve problems," Interfax quoted him as saying.

"If he (Berlusconi) makes an official request, the patriarch will certainly consider it," he said.

Reacting to Kasyanov's comments, Chaplin said he hoped the Vatican would not start planning a visit without prior approval from the Orthodox authorities.

"The Russian state authorities have invited the pope on a number of occasions but, as the Vatican itself agrees, official visits to a country have to be approved by both the state and the predominant church or religious community," he said.

However "we appreciate that the Vatican has thus far refrained from planning the pope's possible visit to Russia without the consent of the Russian Orthodox Church," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Chaplin noted that papal advisor Cardinal Walter Kasper and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, meeting in Geneva last month, had agreed that a settling of differences between the two churches was "very remote."

However they also agreed to set up regular contacts to discuss their differences.

The heads of the two rival churches have not met since the Great Schism of 1054, and the ailing pope has made it clear that one of his outstanding ambitions is to meet Alexy II.

Relations between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, already strained, deteriorated further in February last year when the pope said he was creating four new Catholic dioceses in Russia.

The Moscow patriarchate is angered at what it perceives as Catholic proselytism in its heartlands and over the situation in western Ukraine, where it says it has lost three bishoprics to the Uniate Catholics.

Although the Kremlin could formally invite the pope to visit Russia as a head of state, the Moscow patriarchate wields an effective veto.

Vietnam's bleeding Virgin Mary believers subjected to public criticism 
[Source: Agence France Presse, 4/15/03]

A group of Vietnamese Catholics who spread a rumour that a statue of the Virgin Mary had bled have been criticized in a public session, officials said Tuesday.

The believers had also stated the Virgin Mary herself had appeared to them in 1999. The public criticism session was carried out last Friday in Tan Phu district.

The twenty-one offenders were blamed for supporting Nguyen Van Vinh, who was detained in March last year for disseminating the rumours, a local official said.

Vinh and his underlings had issued and circulated several superstitious documents, books and videotapes about the appearance of the Virgin Mary in the southern province of Dong Nai.

They had also said the eyes of the statue in Hoa Binh Church had bled, drawing thousands of curious people there in 2001.

The 21 were criticized for "abusing freedom of conscience to create social disorder". But Vinh and some others will face a trial for "abusing freedom and democracy to harm the State interest".

Vietnam has Asia's second largest Catholic community after the Philippines, with an estimated seven million believers in a population of some 80 million.

The country also has lots of small sects and religious bodies mixing different religious and traditional beliefs, some of which are under government scrutiny.

Mobile Media goes on a merrymaking spree in the month of May
[Source: Business World (Philippines), 4/28/03]

The entire Philippines turns festive in May as practically all towns and cities in the country celebrate Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan, both colorful and usually grand events marked by an abundant offering of flowers and lavish clothing.

And in mid-May, a burst of hues wraps the cool, quiet town of Lucban, Quezon in celebration of the Pahiyas, one of the most popular and well-attended festivals in the country.

The Flores de Mayo is a month-long Catholic tradition wherein little girls offer flowers everyday to the Virgin Mary after praying the rosary. It culminates in a procession, with carriages generously decorated with flowers bearing the image of Mary, on the last day of the month.

The Santacruzan, also an event rooted in the Catholic faith, is a parade commemorating the search of St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine of Rome, for the Holy Cross. The original Santacruzan concept is to have 18 ladies, each one representing a Catholic virtue or a significant woman of the religion, walk around town while the rest of the devotees trail behind, ahead, and beside them to light their way. The representative of St. Helena - or Santa Elena in the vernacular - comes at the end of the parade and is the most well-lit and most awaited by onlookers on the sidelines.

Nowadays, though, the parade can be as long as the number of households who are willing to shell out money to dress up one of the ladies in the family. Other variations that have cropped up over the years include little girls dressed and made up to look like young ladies and gays who sometimes look more beauteous than real women.

In the capital Metro Manila, there is a grand Santacruzan every year with celebrities on parade donning gowns created by the country's famous designers. This is usually held in the city of Manila.

May 15th marks Pahiyas, a thanksgiving celebration in honor of San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. Houses in Lucban, particularly those along the route of the procession, are elaborately adorned with Kiping, Lucban longganisa (chinese-style sausage), fruits and vegetables, and handicrafts.

Kiping - made from rice flour, shaped using leaves, then painted in bright colors - serves as the main decorative material. Pahiyas actually comes from the word "payas" which means to decorate the wall with kiping. The practice is done both in gratitude for the past year's bountry as well as in prayer for a blessed year ahead.

One house is adjudged as the best for the year, adding extra motivation for residents to be more creative in dressing up their homes. Other than taking part in the procession and basking in the radiant houses, another highlight of the annual event is the Tiyangge sa Lucban wherein the town's products are showcased and sold at prices than can be haggled to a good low. Topping the list of must-buys is the Lucban longganisa and buri/buntal merchandise like hats and bags.

Watch out for the Mobile Media's' coverage of these Maytime merrymaking events!

Gardens honor Mary [Source: Scripps Howard News Service, 4/14/03]

At the dawn of human civilization, nature was distinctly female. Small statues of heavy, pregnant women were the first human symbols of nature's fertility found in archeological digs. But while plants and animals are female, the Earth itself was thought to be male.

The embodiment of nature became a series of nature goddesses. Many of the plants devoted to them included female names. Maidenhair fern was first known as Freyje's hair in Iceland. Its botanical name, "Adiantum capillus-veneris," indicates it was later sacred to Venus. Today it is a plant of the Virgin Mary.

These female names are everywhere in the ancient texts, but in the Middle Ages goddess references became inconvenient to the spread of Christianity. Because monasteries were the storehouses of botanical knowledge at the time, they overlaid new meaning upon the goddess names.

They would honor mostly the Virgin Mary, but also Mary Magdalene, other women in the Bible and various saints and martyrs. The nomenclature did not change much, but the meaning did. In fact, a great deal of interesting folklore appeared to explain this new dedication to the Christian women.

Today there is a growing interest in this relationship of flowers and gardens to Mary. It is fueling an entirely new devotion, which combines a reverence for Mary with a love of plants and flowers.

At homes, churches and holy sites, people have created gardens composed entirely of plants dedicated to Mary by name, legend or history. There is a Mary garden at the U.S. Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and one at the University of Dayton in Ohio. One of the earliest Mary gardens was planted at St. Joseph's Church in Woods Hole, Maine. The gardens are springing up in parishes all over America.

Creating a Mary garden at home or parish is easy to do, but they may vary considerably in size. An apartment Mary garden might be a large pot of flowers and a porcelain statue of her standing among them.

A small townhouse might have a niche garden of Mary plants. More institutional applications may contain hundreds of flowers plus trees and shrubs. Fortunately, John Stokes has created the Mary Gardens Web site where you can find everything you need to get started with yours this spring.

At this site you can browse dozens of well-researched articles about the history of Mary plants and botanical folklore old and new. There are step-by-step guides to creating gardens for patio, home, parish, indoors and on windowsills. The details explain how to obtain and grow the plants successfully. You can also peruse a whole library of articles on Mary garden devotions from theology to prayers and meditations.

Begin by downloading the 10-page "Introductory Annuals Mary Garden Booklet," which gives you background on all the elements. Its plant list includes easy-to-grow summer garden flowers, organized according to the Mysteries of the Rosary.

There's even a plan and associated plant designation to take the guesswork out of layout. The one element that all Mary gardens share is a statue of her as the central focal point.

Nature created by God or a higher power is a concept that is growing ever more important to our spiritual lives. Gardeners have always known that working among plants feels quite spiritual, whether one is religious or not. This closeness to living things that are both beautiful and silent inspires us in so many ways and fills the heart and soul with a sense of peacefulness.

This spring, consider planting a little garden for Mary or simply for the universally divine female. Go there when you feel stressed or angry. Allow its purity to return you to the healing power of the creator, which is the essence of all life. You will soon discover that what they say is true - that from earth we were born, and to earth we shall return, and in between we garden.

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This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by Kris Sommers , was last modified Monday, 03/29/2004 15:24:30 EST by Michael P. Duricy . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.