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Liturgical Season 2/6/04 World News
New Resources  Marian Events  Mary in the Secular Press
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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 month of February with Mary:

Marian Commemoration Days

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 February.

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New Resources

A section on international stamps with images of Mary has been added to our Resources index.  The latest added was Guyana.  Expect more countries to follow.

A section on Mary and Women is now under construction in our Resources index.  The latest addition was "Women in Sacred Scripture."  Expect more articles to follow.

We have added a section on the Shepherd's Field Shrine in the Holy Land under Resources.

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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 comments are typical examples:

Beautiful Stamps!  This is a wonderful site.  Thank you!

Mary

It is such a good website and very informative too.  I found it so useful and interesting.

Andrew


International Marian Research Institute Course Schedule

IMRI courses for the Fall 2003 semester concluded on Nov. 14.  The schedule of future IMRI courses will be posted on the Mary Page when available.

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Current Exhibit

Golden Madonnas

Straw Appliqué Madonnas by Marian Paskowicz will be on display in the Marian Library Gallery from January 15 to February 20, 2004.   The Gallery is open 8:30 am - 4:30 pm weekdays.  A virtual exhibit may be seen on our Gallery section under Current Exhibit.  For more information, or to arrange for viewing at another time, call (937) 229-4214.

New Crèches will also be on display in our museum through November 2004.

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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

The Immaculate Conception and the Life of the Church

A Theological Symposium in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception will be held on February 20-21, 2004 at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.

For questions, please call 413-298-2284 or email: jp2@marian.org

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

FEBRUARY 9-11: CELEBRATION OF THE WORLD DAY OF THE SICK

VATICAN CITY, FEB 5, 2004 (VIS)

This morning in the Holy See Press Office, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, presented the Twelfth World Day of the Sick which will be celebrated on February 9-11 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes on the theme: "The Immaculate Conception and Health Care in the Christian Roots of Europe."

The following people participated in the press conference: Bishop Jose Luis Redrado, O.H. and Fr. Felice Ruffini, M.I., secretary and undersecretary respectively of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, metropolitan archbishop of Lyon and head of health care ministry for the French Episcopal Conference, and Bishop Jacques of Tarbes and Lourdes, France.

Cardinal Lozano explained that this year the World Day of the Sick will take place in Lourdes because "this year marks the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and it was in Lourdes that Mary in one of her apparitions said that she was the Immaculate Conception. In addition, Lourdes was the first place where the World Day of the Sick was celebrated and the Holy Father desired that this day be celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes."

"Our objective," he said, "is to renew health care ministry all over the world and especially in Europe through the celebration" of this Marian anniversary. "We think that in the Christian roots of Europe there is always the search for harmony through Christ; and Mary in her Immaculate Conception begins this Christian harmony that will mean fullness in health and life in her Assumption. For this reason, we chose this theme."

Three days of celebrations are scheduled: February 9th will be dedicated to studying the situation of health care ministry in every country in Europe; on February 10th the topics of bioethics and the meaning of the Immaculate Conception as a source of health will be discussed; on February 11th the solemn welcoming of the special papal envoy is scheduled as well as a Eucharistic celebration in conclusion. In addition, there will be a procession with candles and a Eucharistic blessing for the sick and many of them will receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

The president of the council said that they had especially invited all the bishops who were presidents of the European Episcopal Conferences and those in charge of health care ministry in European nations, as well as all bishops from around the world.

OP/WORLD DAY OF THE SICK/LOZANO VIS 040205 (440)

PRESS OFFICE WEB SITE: 22 MILLION VISITS

VATICAN CITY, FEB 3, 2004 (VIS)

The Vatican's web site has become the most-used medium for the diffusion of information from the Press Office on the activity of the Holy Father and the Holy See.

According to the data provided by the Holy See Internet Office, in 2003 there were almost 22 million hits to the Press Office's web site, with an average of 59,667 searches performed every day. The month with the greatest amount of traffic was March, with 3,598,183 requests answered and an average of 116,072 hits each day.

The hits and requests came from North and South America, Europe, and Asia, in this order: United States, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Brazil, France.

The words most often searched for were: Vatican, News, Information, Press service. The days with greatest activity are Thursday and Friday; the time with the greatest amount of traffic is between 7 and 9 p.m., Rome time.

In 2003, the Vatican Information Service reached the highest number of subscribers to date: 15,916. More than 54% of subscribers receive the service in English, while 28,34% receive it in Spanish, 8.46% in French and 8.54% in Italian.

INTERNET PRESS OFFICE/VIS 040203(200)

2004 PONTIFICAL YEARBOOK PRESENTED TO THE HOLY FATHER

VATICAN CITY, FEB 3, 2004 (VIS)

This morning, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of State, and Archbishop Leonardi Sandri, substitute for General Affairs presented the first copy of the 2004 edition of the "Annuario Pontificio," or pontifical yearbook, to John Paul II, in the presence of those involved in its compilation and printing.

Among significant data is the creation of 30 new cardinals and 19 new episcopal sees, 1 apostolic exarchate, 1 military ordinariate and 1 apostolic prefecture. In addition, 4 metropolitan sees and 2 episcopal sees were elevated and 175 new bishops were appointed.

The statistics, based on data from 2002, indicate that there are 1,071,000,000 baptized Catholics in the world who make up 17.2% of the world population (6,212,000,000). Their distribution by continent is the following: 50% in America, 26.1% in Europe, 12.8% in Africa, 10.3% in Asia and 0.8% in Oceania. With respect to the population, the percentage of Catholics is: 62.4% in America, 40.5% in Europe, 26.8% in Oceania, 16.5% in Africa and 3% in Asia.

The number of people who dedicate themselves to pastoral activity is 4,217,572, distributed as follows: 4,605 bishops, 405,058 priests (of which 267,334 are diocesan), 30,097 permanent deacons, 54,828 professed, non-priest religious, 782,932 professed female religious (of which 51,371 are contemplative), 28,766 members of secular institutes, 143,745 lay missionaries and 2,767,451 catechists.

Compared to 2001, the total number of priests remained the same (405,067 in 2001). However, upon analyzing the number of religious and diocesan priests, an increase in the number of diocesan priests is noted (from 266,448 in 2001 to 267,334 in 2002) as well as a decrease in the number of religious priests (from 138,619 to 137,724). There is an increase in the number of permanent deacons and lay missionaries (3.1% and 3.4% respectively).

The number of major seminarians is 112,982 (in 2001 there were 112,244), signaling an increase of 0.7%. There was an increase in the candidates to the priesthood in Africa (more than 5.8%) and America (more than 1.4%), while in Europe and Asia there was a slight decrease.

PONTIFICAL YEARBOOK 2004/VIS 040203 (770)

CELEBRATIONS TO BE PRESIDED BY THE POPE: FEBRUARY AND MARCH

VATICAN CITY, JAN 31, 2004 (VIS)

Below is the calendar of liturgical celebrations due to be presided by the Holy Father during the months of February and March.

FEBRUARY

- Monday 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Day of Consecrated Life. In the Vatican Basilica at 5:30 p.m., blessing of candles, procession and Mass with members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

- Wednesday 11, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In the Vatican Basilica at 4:30 p.m., Mass for the "Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi" and UNITALSI, presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini. At the end of the celebration, the Holy Father will greet and bless the sick present in the basilica.

- Thursday 19, in the Clementine Hall at 11:00 a.m., consistory for a number of causes of canonization.

- Wednesday 25, Ash Wednesday. In the Vatican Basilica at 10:30 a.m., celebration of the Word, blessing and imposition of the ashes.

- Sunday 29, first Sunday of Lent. In the Apostolic Palace's "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel at 6:00 p.m., beginning of the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia.

MARCH

- Saturday 6, In the "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel at 9:00 a.m., conclusion of Roman Curia's spiritual exercises.

- Sunday 21, fourth Sunday of Lent. At 9:30 a.m., beatification of the Servants of God: Luigi Talamoni, Matilde del Sagrado, Corazon Tellez Robles, Piedad de la Cruz Ortiz Real, and Maria Candida dell'Eucaristia.

OCL/CALENDAR:FEBRUARY-MARCH/VIS 040202 (250)

From Zenit

World Day of the Sick to Highlight the Immaculate Conception

Expected to Gather 25,000 at Shrine of Lourdes

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 5, 2004 (Zenit.org)

The Immaculate Conception, Europe and the afflicted will be focus for the 12th World Day of the Sick, in the Shrine of Lourdes next week.

This year the World Day returns to Lourdes, France, where it started in 1993. On this occasion the theme is "The Immaculate Conception and Health Care in the Christian Roots of Europe."

The World Day is expected to gather 25,000 people at the shrine in the Massabielle grotto, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous on Feb. 11, 1858.

At a press conference today, the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, said: "The 12th World Day of the Sick will be held in Lourdes, as desired by the Holy Father, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception."

"Our objective is to renew health care ministry all over the world and especially in Europe through the celebration of this Marian anniversary," he said.

"We think that in the Christian roots of Europe there is always the search for harmony through Christ; and Mary in her Immaculate Conception begins this Christian harmony that will mean fullness in health and life in her Assumption," the cardinal explained.

The World Day of the Sick will focus on three dimensions: pastoral, theological and liturgical.

The first day, next Monday, will be dedicated to a meeting of representatives of episcopal conferences on the situation of health care ministry in Europe. Bishops from all over the world have been invited to attend.

On the second day, the topic of bioethics and "the meaning of the Immaculate Conception as a source of health will be discussed," the cardinal continued.

On the third day, the solemn welcoming of the special papal envoy, Cardinal Lozano Barragán himself, will take place, as well as the closing Mass. Provision has been made for live connection with the Vatican on Feb. 11, at the very hour the Holy Father holds his Wednesday general audience.

ZE04020504

Pope Exhorts Those Consecrated to Renew Their "Yes" Daily

Calls on the Church to Rediscover Their "Prophetic Witness"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2004 (Zenit.org)

On the Day of Consecrated Life, John Paul II exhorted religious and consecrated persons to renew their total dedication to God.

"Repeat every day your 'yes' to the God of love with joy and conviction, in the intimacy of the cloistered convent or together with the poor and marginalized, among young people or within ecclesial structures, in the different apostolic activities or in mission lands," the Pope said today during a homily in St. Peter's Basilica.

The day of the consecrated--those who live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience--takes place every year on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

As on previous occasions, the Holy Father presided at a Mass attended by men and women religious and consecrated lay people.

The Pope, who read the homily and sang some of the hymns, let Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, celebrate the Mass.

"God wants you to be faithful to his love and totally dedicated to the good of your brothers," John Paul II said in a ceremony that began with the rite of the blessing of candles.

"This is the precious contribution you can offer the Church so that the Gospel of hope will reach the men and women of our time," he added.

At the same time, the Pope exhorted the whole Church to "rediscover the richness of the prophetic witness of consecrated life."

According to the 2003 Pontifical Yearbook, there are 139,159 religious priests, in addition to 54,970 men religious who are not priests. There are 792,317 women religious of active life, and 51,973 contemplative women religious.

ZE04020206

Church Dedicated to a Heroic Mom

ROME, FEB. 2, 2004 (Zenit.org)

A church dedicated to Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, the mother who accepted death rather than endanger her unborn daughter, was inaugurated over the weekend.

The Vicariate of Rome said that the new church will "serve as a subsidiary center for worship" for part of the territory of the Parish of St. Giorgio in Acilia.

The project is part of the program "Fifty Churches for Rome in the Third Millennium." The church, located in a developing neighborhood, will help serve 2,000 people.

Molla (1922-1962) refused a cancer operation rather than submit her unborn daughter to danger. A pediatrician, Molla knew the risks involved to herself.

Last December, in the presence of the Pope, the Congregation for Sainthood Causes proclaimed the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of Molla, opening the way for her canonization.

ZE04020222

John Paul II's Message for 2004 World Day of the Sick

Event to Focus on Lourdes

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2004 (Zenit.org)

Here is the text of John Paul's message for the 12th World Day of the Sick, which on Feb. 11 will focus attention on the Shrine of Lourdes in France.

* * *

To my Venerable Brother

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán

President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care

1. The World Day of the Sick, an event held on a different Continent each year, takes on a singular meaning this time. Indeed, it will take place in Lourdes, France, site of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin on 11 February 1858, which since that time has become the destination of many pilgrimages. In that mountainous region, Our Lady wished to demonstrate her maternal love, especially towards the suffering and the sick. Since then, she continues to be present through her solicitude.

This Shrine was chosen because in 2004 is the 150th Anniversary of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was on 8 December 1854 with the Dogmatic Bull "Ineffabilis Deus" that my Predecessor, Bl. Pius IX of happy memory, affirmed that "the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God" (DS, 2803). At Lourdes, speaking in the native dialect, Mary said: "Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou" [I am the Immaculate Conception].

2. With these words, did not the Blessed Virgin wish to express the link that unites her to health and to life? If death entered the world because of original sin, by the merits of Jesus Christ, God preserved Mary free from every stain of sin, and salvation and life came to us (cf. Romans 5:12-21).

The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception introduces us into the heart of the mystery of Creation and Redemption (cf. Ephesians 1: 4-12; 3: 9-11). God wanted to give life in abundance to the human creature (cf. John 10:10), on the condition, however, that his initiative would be met by a free and loving response. Man tragically cut off vital dialogue with the Creator, refusing this gift with the disobedience that led to sin. To the "yes" of God, source of the fullness of life, the "no" of man was placed in opposition, motivated by proud self-sufficiency, harbinger of death (cf. Romans 5:19).

Entire humanity was heavily involved in this closure towards God. In view of Christ's merits, only Mary of Nazareth was conceived without original sin and was completely open to the divine design so that the Heavenly Father was able to accomplish in her the project that he had for mankind.

The Immaculate Conception introduces the harmonious interlacing between the "yes" of God and the "yes" that Mary pronounced without reserve when the angel brought the heavenly announcement (cf. Luke 1:38). Her "yes" in the name of humanity reopened the doors of Heaven to the world, thanks to the Incarnation of the Word of God in her womb by the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 1:35). In this way, the original project of creation was restored and strengthened in Christ; the Virgin Mother also shares in this project.

3. The keystone of history lies here: with the Immaculate Conception of Mary began the great work of Redemption that was brought to fulfillment in the precious blood of Christ. In him, every person is called to achieve the perfection of holiness (cf. Colossians 1:28).

The Immaculate Conception is, therefore, the promising dawn of the radiant day of Christ, who with his death and Resurrection was to restore full harmony between God and humanity. If Jesus is the source of life that conquers death, Mary is the attentive mother who comes to meet the needs of her children, obtaining for them the health of soul and body. This is the message that the Shrine of Lourdes constantly re-proposes to the devout and to pilgrims. This is also the meaning behind the healings of body and spirit that take place at the grotto of Massabielle.

On that site, since the day of the apparition to Bernadette Soubirous, Mary has "healed" pain and sickness, also restoring many of her sons and daughters to health of body. She has worked much more surprising miracles, however, in the souls of believers, preparing them for the encounter with her Son Jesus, the authentic answer to the deepest expectations of the human heart. The Holy Spirit, who covered her with his shadow at the moment of the Incarnation of the Word, transforms the soul of countless sick people who turn to her. Even when they do not obtain the gift of bodily health, they are able to receive another that is much more important: the conversion of heart, source of peace and interior joy. This gift transforms their existence and makes them apostles of the Cross of Christ, standard of hope, even amid the hardest and most difficult trials.

4. In the Apostolic Letter "Salvifici Doloris" I noted that suffering belongs to the ups and downs of men and women throughout history, who must learn to accept and go beyond it (cf. No. 2: [11 February 1984]; L'Osservatore Romano English Edition [ORE], 20 February, p. 1). And yet how can they, if not thanks to the Cross of Christ?

In the death and Resurrection of the Redeemer human suffering finds its deepest meaning and its saving value. All of the weight of humanity's affliction and pain is summarized in the mystery of a God who, taking on our human nature, was humiliated "for our sake ... to be sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21). On Golgotha he was burdened with the sin of every human creature, and in solitude and abandonment he called out to the Father: "Why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).

From the paradox of the Cross springs the answer to our most worrying questions. Christ suffers for us. He takes upon himself the sufferings of everyone and redeems them. Christ suffers with us, enabling us to share our pain with him. United to the suffering of Christ, human suffering becomes a means of salvation; this is why the believer can say with St. Paul: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Colossians 1:24). Pain, accepted with faith, becomes the doorway to the mystery of the Lord's redemptive suffering; a suffering that no longer takes away peace and happiness since it is illuminated by the splendor of the Resurrection.

5. At the foot of the Cross Mary, made Mother of humanity, suffers in silence, participating in her Son's suffering, ready to intercede so that every person may obtain salvation (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter "Salvifici Doloris" [11 February 1984], n. 25; ORE, 20 February 1984, p. 6).

At Lourdes, it is not difficult to understand Mary's unique participation in the salvific role of Christ. The prodigy of the Immaculate Conception reminds believers of a fundamental truth: it is possible to reach salvation only through docile participation in the project of the Father, who wanted to redeem the world through the death and Resurrection of his only-begotten Son. Through Baptism, the believer becomes part of this design of salvation and is freed from original sin. Sickness and death, although present in earthly existence, lose their negative sense, and in the light of faith, corporal death, overcome by Christ's death (cf. Romans 6: 4), becomes the required passage for entering the fullness of immortal life.

6. In our time, great progress has been made in the scientific understanding of life, a fundamental gift of God of which we are the administrators. Life is to be welcomed, respected and defended from its beginning until its natural end; the family, cradle of each newborn life, must be protected with it.

Today, "genetic engineering" is spoken of, referring to the extraordinary possibility that modern science offers to intervene in the very sources of life. Every authentic progress in this field is to be encouraged, provided that it always respects the rights and dignity of the person from his or her conception. Indeed, no one can claim the right to destroy or indiscriminately manipulate the life of the human being. A specific duty of workers in the field of Health Pastoral Care is to sensitize those who work in this delicate sector so that they always engage to put themselves at the service of life.

On the occasion of the World Day of the Sick I wish to thank all of the members of Health Pastoral Care, especially the Bishops from the different Episcopal Conferences who help in this sector; the chaplains, parish priests and the other priests who are engaged in this field; the religious orders and congregations; volunteers and those who do not tire of offering a consistent witness to the death and Resurrection of the Lord in the face of suffering, pain and death.

I would like to extend my gratitude to health-care workers, medical and paramedical personnel, researchers -- especially those dedicated to discovering new treatments--and to those employed in the production of medicines to be made available also to the poor.

I entrust all of you to the Most Holy Virgin, venerated at the Shrine of Lourdes as the Immaculate Conception. May she help every Christian to witness that the only authentic answer to pain, suffering and death is Christ our Lord, who died and rose for us.

With these sentiments, I willingly send to you, Venerable Brother, and to those participating in the celebration of the World Day of the Sick, a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 1 December 2003

JOHN PAUL II

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.

ASK DR. KNOWLEDGE [Source: The Boston Globe, 1/29/2004]

Q. Is there any truth to the stories about a groundhog seeing his shadow (or not) telling us how much longer winter is going to last? This winter has gone on long enough already!

I.G., Boston

A. Groundhog day is Feb. 2, this coming Monday. It's the secular version of a Catholic holiday known as Candlemas, which almost nobody observes. Also called "Purification of the Blessed Virgin" or "Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple," it falls exactly 40 days after Christmas. The idea is that according to Mosaic law, a woman who gave birth to a son was unclean for seven days, and then was supposed to spend another 33 days "in the blood of her purification," which was a sort of isolation period. If this sounds rough, it was even worse if a female child was born, requiring 80 days of isolation! For Roman Catholics, the return of the Virgin Mary to normal society was celebrated with the distribution of blessed candles, hence the name of the holiday.

What's all this got to do with groundhogs? It goes back to the Scots, who had a saying along the lines of "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." The English, Germans, and other Northern Europeans had similar sayings.

The groundhog part of the day is an American extension. The idea is to go to Gobbler's Knob, a woody knoll near Punxsutawney, Pa., on Feb. 2 to see what a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil will do. If he sees his shadow (which would mean it's bright and clear, as opposed to overcast), then we're supposed to expect six more weeks of winter. Otherwise spring is supposed to come sooner. This ritual has been going on since 1887, and was originally secret, but since 1966 it has been a public event, attracting large crowds and a lot of media attention. Apparently Phil sees his shadow about nine times out of 10.

Is there any scientific sense to this? Actually, though it may surprise many, there is a little. A clear day probably means that it's been clear for a while. (This is an old weather prediction trick - a good guess for the weather tomorrow is that it'll be what it was yesterday!) That in turn could mean that the earth has been able to radiate the heat it absorbs during the day from sunlight back into the sky, and one expects colder temperatures and what can feel like a longer winter. On the other hand, if it's overcast, the clouds will contribute (and, by the same sort of argument we used already, may have been contributing for a while) to reflecting the heat radiated from the earth back down. That greenhouse-like effect can lead to overall warmer temperatures, and can make it seem that spring is coming sooner, or at least that winter is milder.

How accurate is all this? Well, you can probably guess for yourself. But the website http://www.groundhog.org declares, "Phil's Accuracy: 100%, of course!"

Dr. Knowledge answers your questions about health and science each week. E-mail drknowledge@globe.com, send a fax to 617-929-9263, or write Dr. Knowledge, c/o The Boston Globe, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819. Please include your initials and hometown. Selected questions of general interest will be answered.

BOOKS IN BRIEF [Source: The Toronto Sun, 1/25/2004]

OUR LADY OF THE FOREST

by David Guterson

David Guterson usually writes his stories from a moral and spiritual point of view and his new novel is no different.

In the rainy, foggy forests of Washington state, a troubled runaway teenager has a vision of the Virgin Mary, near the small town of North Fork. Ann Holmes seems an unlikely choice for such a revelation: She's a 16-year-old druggie who earns a meagre living picking mushrooms while living in a tent.

When Ann has her vision, with a clearcut message from the Virgin for the world to clean up its act or else her Son will wreak his vengeance, she tells the local priest to build a church in the forest, which happens to belong to a huge lumber company. Thousands of pilgrims soon beat a path to the site.

Others are more cynical, including the Catholic Church, a fellow mushroom picker who sees the offerings of the faithful as a scam to supplement her income and an embittered logger who has been out of work since an accident paralyzed his son. A thought-provoking story about the nature of faith and the human need for redemption. (Random House)

N.W. Side nuns make rosaries their mission [Source: Chicago Sun-Times, 1/18/2004]

Meticulously and with great ease, Sister Helene Marie Ulaszek wraps the thin Virgin-Mary-blue cord around the tip of her finger, counting silently.

Once, twice, slip the cord through the loop and pull for a "Hail Mary." Three times around makes a knot for an "Our Father."

And 59 knots make a rosary.

It's a meditation that's interrupted only by the ringing of the switchboard phone in the tidy Northwest Side offices of the Felician Sisters.

"Felician Sisters, good morning," Sister Helene, 81, coos into the receiver, the knotted blue cord resting on the desk in front of her as she flips a switch for the PA system. "Sister Brendan, seven-four. Sister Brendan, seven-four."

Gently, she replaces the receiver, picks up the blue cord, and resumes counting out the knots.

Over the years, Sister Helene, who was a hospital pharmacist until her retirement a few years back, has made thousands of rosaries in her free time, just like many of the other women in her Roman Catholic religious order, the Felician Sisters.

Since 1948, members of the Felician Sisters Mother of Good Counsel Province in Chicago have made more than 7 million cord rosaries that they ship, for free, to missionaries all over the world.

One recent morning, while Sister Helene tied knots and answered phones upstairs, downstairs in the one-room headquarters of the nuns' International Cord Rosary Center, Sister Josephine Janicki, Sister Christella Butrymowicz and Sister Agnessine Veteska are gathered around a table, cutting a huge spool of cord into 9-foot skeins with a Black & Decker rotary power cutter.

Zzzrrraaaannnng, Zzzrrraaaannnng, the saw screams.

The cord likely will wind through the fingers of Catholic schoolchildren in places such as India, Peru, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe or the Philippines as they pray the rosary, the collection of prayers and meditations on the life of Christ and his mother, Mary, that have been recited by Roman Catholics for more than 500 years.

"We feel that the devotion to Mary comes at a good time when the world is not at peace; Mary is the queen of peace," said Sister Barbara Bosch, the Felicians' provincial minister in Chicago.
Fifty-five years ago, Sister Mary Imeldine Litoborski, a teacher at the order's Good Counsel High School in Chicago, started the cord rosary ministry with her freshman religion class.

Four thousand rosaries were made that year and sent to Poland, where the Felician order was founded.

The Felicians' Chicago province has 204 members, most living at the order's convent near Pulaski and Peterson. The average age of the sisters is 75, said Sister Brendan Bogdan, provincial secretary. Sister Imeldine, now in her 90s, lives in the order's infirmary and is no longer able to make rosaries.

About a dozen nuns in the Chicago province still make the cord rosaries. "The women you see working on the rosaries are women who have been active in ministry," Sister Barbara said.

"They have accepted the fact that they're retired, in a sense, but they've never really retired from serving."

GRAPHIC: Jean Lachat, Sister Christella is seen binding the cords. Members of the Felician Sisters have made more than 7 million cord rosaries since 1948.; Sister Josephine Janicki and Sister Christella Butrymowicz cut cord into 9-foot skeins using a Black & Decker power cutter. ; Sister Helene Marie Ulaszek, (at left and below) knots rosaries between phone calls at the convent office, near Pulaski and Peterson. The retired nun has made thousands of rosaries in her free time.; The finished product will make its way to Catholic schoolchildren in places such as India, Peru, Zimbabwe or the Philippines.

The radiant dish Nicholas Shakespeare enjoys a practical and spiritual history of the elusive Holy Grail [Source: The Daily Telegraph (London), 1/17/2004]

The importance of religious relics is hard to comprehend today, but in the Middle Ages the belief that these objects emanated a spiritual power meant they were not only venerated but eagerly sought-after. In AD 326, Helena, the mother of Constantine, departed on a foraging expedition to Palestine to look for the True Cross, and apparently found it. In due course the bones of Jesus' donkey were revered for their healing potential, as were strands of the Virgin Mary's hair and Jesus' foreskin, dried particles of the Holy Prepuce going on display, at times simultaneously, in the abbey churches of Charroux and Coulombs; the cathedrals of Antwerp, Puy-en-Velay; and Santiago de Compostela; and churches in Besancon, Hildesheim, Calcata and Metz.

As Richard Barber suggests in The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief, an impulse to seek out scattered fragments and invest them with unlikely properties lies behind the popularity of the grail legend--about which there is no mention whatsoever in the Bible; nor, it turns out, any subsequent concrete agreement. Barber's scholarly and comprehensive survey of Grail literature attempts to answer seriously a question still being posed as late as 1974 by the startled figure of Zoot in Castle Anthrax.

"You are the keepers of the Holy Grail?" enquires Sir Galahad in Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

"The What?" asks Zoot.

The hare was started in about 1180 in north-east France by Chretien de Troyes. In his unfinished romance, Perceval, Chretien writes of a naive knight who is entertained at a castle where a girl enters, in radiant light, "holding a grail between her hands." It was made of "fine, pure gold; and in it were set precious stones of many kinds."

From this description come all others. The grail, which was not all that central to Chretien's romance, was most likely a shallow serving dish for meat and derives from the French word "gradale." In Barber's opinion a lot of ink might have been saved had Chretien finished his story, or if Perceval had shown a glimmer of Zoot's curiosity and asked: "What's the meaning of this?"

But we cannot resist a mystery. Over the next 50 years Chretien's unfinished fragment was completed or adapted by at least half a dozen poets, some of them German, who added their own material and emphasis. The result, writes Barber, was the medieval equivalent of an "urban legend" in which a source known only to the author supplies vital but indirect evidence to bolster an unprovable case. And so Chretien's unambiguous gold dish is interpreted out of all shape and meaning. In its long history, it becomes variously the dish off which Jesus ate the Last Supper; the chalice that stored his blood after he was wounded (Robert de Boron); a stone with youth-enhancing inscriptions (Wolfram von Eschenbach); a divine bottle (Rabelais); an ashtray in a Cairo club (Mary Betts); the casket that contains the Turin Shroud (Noel Currer-Briggs); a flying-saucer (John Michell). Hijacked first for its religious potential, the secular and chivalric grail swiftly takes on an impossible attraction for alchemists, conspiracy theorists, esoterics, Nazis, Rosicrucians, and New Agers. While no one really has a clue about what the grail is, "because there is so little to work on", almost everyone has a theory. Reflected in the radiant dish, we see our own distorted faces.

Barber is an Arthurian expert whose purpose is to hack a path through the muddled, corrupted and conflicting versions of the grail story. His usage of the royal "we" and his fondness for quoting from specialist texts lends to his quest the air of an enthusiastic amateur--or Perceval. He might with profit have found a way to structure his own book so as not to repeat large chunks of the story, but the result is admirably thorough, sane and sceptical. Barber is scrupulous in his fairness, his conclusions are interesting and although he keeps his reins tight on some fun he might have had, he performs a valuable service in rescuing the original grail from 800 years of garbled and improbable misreadings.

He dismisses pot-boilers such as The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail as "nonsense ... overlaid with a veneer of learning", and ridicules the whole argument of a "bloodline" as based on the whim of a 15th century English writer, John Hardyng, "perhaps not entirely at ease with French," who in a version of Chinese whispers reads "san greal" as "sang real" - that is, "blood royal." This interpretation finds few supporters, of course, with Gnostics who believe gral is an acronym for the Latin motto Gnosis Retribuit Animi Laborem.

Today, when the search for a physical object has dissolved into a quest for a metaphysical truth, "everything, somewhere, somehow must be a grail..." Barber describes the modern use of the term "holy grail" as "journalistic shorthand for the ultimate perfection that will always elude us" - whether it's the discovery of a unified theory of physics or of sexual fulfilment ("the holy grail of the Modern Miss--an enormous willy"). Intriguingly, since he began his book in 1997, Barber notes a threefold increase in the mention of the word "grail" in The Daily Telegraph. Now what does that tell us?

The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief by Richard Barber

432pp, Allen Lane, pounds 25

T pounds 23 (plus pounds 2.25 p&p) 0870 1557222

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