Liturgical Season 9/10/04 World News
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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 September 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 September.

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New Resources

A section on Marian Spiritualities has been added to our Resources index.  The latest addition was a paper by Brother John Samaha on Mary in Byzantine Spirituality.  Expect more articles to follow.

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

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

The Marian Library has received many valuable donations of religious art.  The most recent is a collection of the works of Alex Rapoport from his widow, Irina.  Many thanks to all our benefactors!

We have also revised our answer to a reader's question: What did Our Lady say about her heart at Fatima?

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  News from the Marian Library

Alumni Update

Dr. Virginia Kimball recently attended the meeting of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary held in the U.K.  She is also scheduled to speak in October at the ESBVM-USA meeting on Mary as "Theotokos of Protection."  Her paper, Mary as "Fountain of the Fountain," A Proposal for Ecumenical Understanding on Devotion, is being published as Paper #4 in its series.

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Current Exhibit

Acts of Kindness: Posters by John Bach

A retrospective of 25 posters designed for The Marian Library Gallery Art Exhibitions over the past 15 years will be exhibited at the Marian Library through October 10, 2004.  All works are transparent watercolors.  For more information click into, Gallery.

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

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International Marian Research Institute Course Schedule

IMRI courses for the Fall 2004 semester will commence on October 18.  The course schedule through Fall 2005 is now available.

Also, Michael Duricy is scheduled to facilitate an on-line course on Mary geared to catechists which will be offered through U.D.'s Institute for Pastoral Initiatives.  The course will run from October 17 - November 20.  Registration for this course ends October 12.  For more information call 937-229-4654 or click into VLCFF.

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Marian Events

Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary - United States meeting

The ESBVM-USA will meet at Fordham University in New York City on October 2, 2004.  Fr. Myles Murphy and Dr. Virginia Kimball, both IMRI graduates, will be among the featured speakers.  For more information, click into http://msa62.tripod.com/esbvm or www.esbvm.org.  You may also contact their President, Bill Ryon, by phone at 703-451-7062 or email at wryonjr@verizon.net.

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



When Pope John Paul travels on Sunday, September 5 to Loreto, it will be his fifth trip to the Adriatic coast where what is considered to be Italy's most important Marian shrine is located. He will be in Montorso de Loreto to conclude the pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of members of Italian Catholic Action, who began a five-day meeting on September 1.

The pope previously traveled to Loreto in 1979, 1985, and 1994, to open the ceremonies for the seventh centenary of the shrine and again in 1995 for the closing centennial ceremonies. The sixth World Day of the Sick, instituted by this Pope, was celebrated there on February 11, 1998.

The shrine in Loreto was built around the house where, according to tradition, the Virgin Mary received the announcement of her divine maternity and where the Holy Family lived in Nazareth. The house of the Holy Family, also according to tradition, was miraculously transported to Loreto the night of December 9-10, 1294, and has been for centuries a center of pilgrimages and Marian devotion.

The Madonna of Loreto, in whose honor countless shrines have been built around the world, is today patroness of air travelers and of airline and air force personnel. The construction of the basilica at the Shrine of Loreto was started in 1469 and additions made over the centuries.

In 1993 the Holy Father wrote a letter to Archbishop Pasquale Macchi, the then pontifical delegate to the shrine, in which he asked that the Holy House, "which has taken such an active part in the life of Christians during most of the last millennium, may continue to be during the third millennium one of the highest Marian pulpits of Christianity."

On December 10, 1994, the Pope opened the shrine centennial by presiding at a Mass in the presence of more than 200 cardinals, archbishops and bishops from different Italian dioceses in the presence of numerous faithful. The house of Nazareth, he said, "is the place where the first 'domestic church', formed by the Holy Family, gathered. ... Here in Loreto today, we wish to entrust once again to the Mother of the Redeemer the families of all peoples and nations. We commend to her especially those who are the most tried and suffering."

Returning to the shrine in September 1995, John Paul II greeted children and their families saying: "Mary's House which has been venerated for seven centuries in the Shrine of Loreto, reminds us of the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth."

"We can imagine the little Jesus in his daily surroundings: while he ran and played near his home or while he slept or was sitting and eating with his parents...Who knows whether there was also a school at that time in Nazareth? But perhaps this is something you would rather not think about especially in these last days of holiday. However, even for Jesus, the first real school of life was His own family: from Joseph and Mary He learned the most important things: humility, fidelity, prayer, work."

This Sunday, September 5, the Pope will leave Castelgandolfo by helicopter and after a one-hour trip will arrive at the John Paul II Youth Center in Montorso near Loreto. There he will travel by car to the square in Montorso. At 10 a.m. he will celebrate a Mass during which he will beatify three servants of God, members of Catholic Action: Catalan priest, Pedro Tarres y Claret, and two young lay Italians, Alberto Marvelli and Pina Suriano. He is scheduled to say a few words before praying the Angelus.

After the beatification, the Holy Father will return by car to the John Paul II Youth Center for lunch and a rest. He is scheduled to leave Loreto for Castelgandolfo at 5 p.m.

JPII-TRIP/LORETO/... VIS 040903 (600)

History of the Holy House of Loreto

Rome Notes by Delia Gallagher

This Sunday, Sept. 5, the Pope will make his fifth visit to Loreto, site of the house in which the Holy Family once lived, to beatify three new blesseds of the Church.

The house in question is the one from Nazareth, where Mary was born and raised, and pronounced her "fiat" to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement. It is also considered the house where the Holy Family lived. According to Catholic tradition it was "transported by the angels" around 1291 from Palestine to Dalmatia, Croatia, and is now found at Loreto, on the eastern Italian coast.

I remember an old joke told to me by an evangelical friend at the Vatican: "Some Catholics believe not only that Mary was assumed into heaven, but that her house was too." Well, not quite.

The story of the house is not one of doctrine, of course, but of long and venerable tradition.

The original house in Nazareth lay protected for many years in an underground crypt thanks to Constantine, who, in 312, built the first Basilica over the holy spot. It remained a place of peaceful pilgrimage through the beginning of the crusades (in 1219 St. Francis of Assisi visited). Defeated in 1291, Christians were forced to withdraw from the Holy Land and destruction of the house by the Turks seemed imminent.

It is then, in May 1291, that the house appeared in a field in Tersatto, Dalmatia, most likely brought by Christians fleeing the Holy Land. It remained in Dalmatia for three years until it was again "transported" across the sea to Italy, first to an area near Lecanati and finally to its last home a few miles away in Loreto.

Whether it is the original house is disputed. However the dimensions of the house, 31 feet by 13 feet, seem to match those in Nazareth and the materials used for its walls are similar to those used in Nazareth and very dissimilar to Italian building materials.

Like the Icon of Kazan, however, the importance of the house lies less in its authenticity than in its history.

It has been a place of pilgrimage for over 2,000 of the Church’s most celebrated members: St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Philip Neri, St. Francis de Sales, St. John Capistrano, St. Clement Hofbauer, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, St. Louis de Montfort, St. John Bosco, St. Thérèse, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Mother Cabrini and St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

At the Vatican, Our Lady of Loreto is credited for restoring health to Popes Pius II, Paul II and Pius IX. More than fifty Popes have testified to the authenticity of the house at Loreto and in 1669 the Litany of Loreto was approved for use in the Mass, one of only five approved public litanies.

Many in the English-speaking world will have heard of, if not been educated by, Loreto Sisters. Interestingly, the Loreto Sisters were formed in Ireland, not Italy, by Irish IBVM (Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded by Englishwoman Mary Ward) nun, Frances Mary Teresa Ball (1794-1861) who established an IBVM house in 1822 in Dublin and called it Loreto House. The Loreto Sisters, now numbering more than one thousand, have houses and schools on 6 continents and in 16 countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, England, India, Mauritius, and Gibraltar.

Not surprisingly, Our Lady of Loreto, known as the "flying house," is the patron saint of aviators.



The Pope today left Castelgandolfo at 8:30 a.m. by helicopter for Loreto where he arrived one hour later. After being greeted by civil and religious authorities in the John Paul II Youth Center, he proceeded in the popemobile to the square in Montorso where at 10 a.m. he celebrated Mass and beatified the Servants of God and members of Catholic Action Fr. Pedro (Pere) Tarres i Claret (1905-1950), Alberto Marvelli (1918-1946), and Pina Surian (1915-1950), lay persons.



Pope John Paul today welcomed 2,000 members of the Schoenstatt movement to the apostolic palace at Castelgandolfo on the occasion of the inauguration yesterday of the Matri Ecclesiae Shrine and Schoenstatt Center in Belmonte in the Roman neighborhood of Casalotti. Members came to Rome on pilgrimage from various parts of the world for a three-day celebration that started September 7.

In brief remarks in German, the Pope told his guests that by building their shrine in Rome they deepened their ties to the Successor of Peter and to the Universal Church. He noted that the movement has many branches throughout the world dedicated to their apostolate and to the ideal of Christian holiness.

In particular he highlighted the closeness of the Schoenstatt movement to families as the basic cell of society, culture and the Church and their efforts to fight the threats against life in the modern world, most especially abortion. He underscored how members of the movement honor Mary, a mother and educator, in their homes, so that homes become "domestic churches."




Made public today was a message from the Holy Father to Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil, and to the other bishops, priests, religious and lay people in the country on the occasion of the centenary of the coronation of Our Lady of Aparecida, queen and patron of Brazil.

The message, dated July 17, was read yesterday during a solemn Eucharistic celebration in the shrine in Aparecida by Cardinal Eugenio de Araujo Sales, archbishop emeritus of Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro, who presided at the Mass.

After recalling that Pope Pius X crowned Our Lady as queen of Brazil in 1904, John Paul II writes that "Our Lady's patronage of a nation is not possible without the cooperation of those being protected by her, and implies their free consent which is renewed every day; it implies that they are worthy of this patronage, incarnate in a commitment of life inspired by the profound and solid certainties of the faith."

Addressing in particular the bishops, the Pope underscored the importance of "engaging in the ancient Marian devotion of your people with a truly pastoral spirit. ... Whether or not this devotion becomes a way to encounter God in Jesus Christ through the faith depends on the example of the pastors and agents of pastoral care."

"Therefore, " he concludes, " help the faithful to live their Marian devotion as a clear and brave testimony of love for Christ, which shows the personal and communitarian identity of Catholics, while combating the danger of secularism and consumerism and which, at the same time, promotes the practice of Christian virtues in families. In the same way, this devotion will help to consolidate the bonds of communion with the pastors of the Church of Christ, addressing the fragmentation of the faith, often caused by the proselytism of other sects."


From Zenit

Devotion to Mary Should Bring One Closer to God, Says Pope

In Message to Brazil on Centenary of Coronation of Our Lady Aparecida

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 9, 2004 (Zenit.org)

John Paul II encouraged pastors to form the faithful in such a way that popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary will lead to an encounter with God.

The Pope gave this instruction in a message sent to Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of the National Shrine of Aparecida, and to the other bishops, priests, religious and laity of Brazil, on the occasion of the centenary of the coronation of Our Lady Aparecida as queen and patroness of that country.

The message, published today by the Vatican press office, was read Wednesday during the solemn Mass at the shrine, presided over by the Pope's special envoy, Cardinal Eugênio de Araújo Sales, retired archbishop of Rio de Janeiro.

The Holy Father addressed the bishops in a special way, to emphasize the importance of "assuming with a real pastoral spirit the very ancient Marian devotion of your people."

"For this devotion to be a way of encounter, in faith, with God in Jesus Christ, much depends on the example of pastors and pastoral agents," he said.

John Paul II encouraged pastors to help the Brazilian faithful "to live their Marian devotion as a clear and courageous testimony of love of Christ, which will manifest the personal and communitarian identity of Catholics, against the danger of secularism and consumerism and, at the same time, foster in families the practice of Christian virtues."

"This devotion will help to consolidate the bonds of communion with pastors of the Church of Christ, addressing the disintegration of the faith, so many times fomented by the proselytism of sects," the Pope said.

This Marian devotion of Brazilians dates back to 1717, when three fishermen found in their nets a broken terracotta figure of the Virgin of the Conception, of just 36 centimeters (14 inches).

One of the fishermen took the image home and placed it on a small altar. A few years later an oratory was established. On May 5, 1743, a church began to be built. It was inaugurated on July 26, 1745, in which the Blessed Virgin was venerated under the name Our Lady Aparecida.

The village of Our Lady Aparecida is a few kilometers from Guaratingueta, a village of the state of Sao Paulo.

The Blessed Virgin is portrayed as dark, and dressed in a thick embroidered mantle, her hands on her chest in a praying position.

Pope Pius X crowned Our Lady Aparecida queen of Brazil in 1904. On July 4, 1980, when visiting the shrine, John Paul II entrusted Brazil to Mary.


Schoenstatt Movement Exhorted to Defend the Family

Pope Receives Pilgrims on Hand for Inauguration of Shrine

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 9, 2004 (Zenit.org)

In the face of a growing "culture of death," John Paul II encouraged the Schoenstatt International Movement in its efforts to defend life and the family.

"Responsibility for society and understanding of social relations based on the spirit of Christianity is growing in your movement," the Pope said today when receiving some 2,000 pilgrims of this new ecclesial reality in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.

The pilgrims were on hand for the inauguration of the Omnia Matri Ecclesiae Shrine of Belmonte, near Rome, and of Schoenstatt's International Center in the city, which took place Wednesday.

"I have always tried to inspire in the Church this responsibility before the world" to stand up for life, the Holy Father said. "Because of this, I would like to reinforce you in this commitment, which can be assumed in many ways."

"Also included among these is the concrete defense of life before the threat of a culture of death that is spreading increasingly, as demonstrated in a terrible way by abortion. In this connection, all the faithful are invited to sketch 'luminous signs' of which the world is in constant need," the Pope said in his German-language address.

The Pontiff thanked the head of the movement's General Presidency, Father Heinrich Walter, and said that "Schoenstatt's efforts are directed in particular to the family, as the fundamental cell of the Church, culture and society."

"Following your founder's advice," he said in reference to Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968), the Holy Father invited the pilgrims to "reserve for the cross and for Mary's image a place of honor in your homes," making them "shrines of the Church," in which "Mary acts as mother and teacher."

"Our Church needs to revitalize religious life and the apostolic endeavor," the Pope said, adding that in "this commitment are united the many ecclesial communities and numerous spiritual movements that the Spirit of the Lord has given rise to at the dawn of the third millennium."

"They are a response of Providence to the numerous challenges of our time," he said.

On Wednesday, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for Rome and the president of the Italian episcopal conference, attended the inauguration and blessed the Omnia Matri Ecclesiae Shrine in the presence of 3,000 people.

Schoenstatt's members also participated in a prayer vigil in the Vatican Gardens on Tuesday.

"The Passion" a Top Seller in Video

HOLLYWOOD, California, SEPT. 9, 2004 (Zenit.org)

"The Passion of the Christ" sold nearly 9 million combined DVD and VHS units during its first week in release on home video, a trade journal says.

That makes the Mel Gibson film the top-selling live-action title of all time, according to 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment executives cited by the Hollywood Reporter. Fox is the video's distributor.

That figure establishes "The Passion" as the best-selling live-action home video during its first week in release, topping the previous record holder, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

What Inspired an Online Marian Magazine

Interview With Editor Mark Miravalle

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, SEPT. 9, 2004 (Zenit.org)

A Marian Internet magazine was launched in time for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

A number of international Mariologists and Marian authors have joined in the online weekly journal Mother of All Peoples, says its editor Mark Miravalle, a professor of theology and Mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Miravalle shared with ZENIT his thoughts on the new project, launched Wednesday at www.motherofallpeoples.com.

Q: What inspired the beginning of a weekly Marian Internet magazine?

Miravalle: Two great Marian figures have inspired the Mother of All Peoples weekly Internet magazine. The first is John Paul II.

In preparation for this year's 150th anniversary of the pronouncement of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Father called for greater Mariological research, development and dialogue. The magazine will feature an international team of Mariologists who will offer commentaries on a wide spectrum of Marian issues including contemporary, classical and interdisciplinary topics.

The second source of inspiration for the magazine comes from St. Maximilian Kolbe. This extraordinary Marian apostle always sought to use the best of modern means for his evangelization on behalf of Our Lady. While personally living extreme poverty, he acquired the most advanced printing presses of his day to spread the Church's truth about the Immaculata the world over.

Certainly the Internet represents one of the most effective technological means today of promulgating the Church's profound and ongoing testimony to the Mother of Jesus to all parts of the world.

Q: Is the Mother of All Peoples magazine scholarly or popular in focus?

Miravalle: Actually, it is both. It is a Marian magazine that seeks to satisfy both "head" and "heart" in giving proper recognition and discussion to what the Holy Father commonly terms the "whole truth about Mary."

Scholarly Mariological articles will be intermingled with Marian pastoral reflections offered by various cardinals and bishops. Articles on Marian devotions such as the rosary, Marian consecration and Marian apparitions will be juxtaposed with pieces on Our Lady's contemporary impact on Christian culture, the nature of the Christian family, and the role of woman in today's society.

The role of Our Lady as the Mother of all peoples reaches every aspect of Christian life and civilization. Our Marian subject matter, coupled with the remarkable diversity of a paperless Internet magazine, allows for optimum flexibility in terms of the nature and length of articles.

Q: Why did you decide to offer a free, weekly edition of a journal in honor of Mary?

Miravalle: The first reason for the magazine is actually to offer reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

During the Marian revelations at Fatima, Our Lord revealed to Sr. Lucia five offenses which most deeply wound the Immaculate Heart of Mary: 1) the rejection of her immaculate conception; 2) the rejection of her perpetual virginity; 3) the rejection of her role as Mother of God and Mother of all peoples; 4) the destruction of her sacred images; and 5) when children are led away from her maternal heart.

In an effort to atone for these five offenses, which continue today to a dramatic degree, we will post at least five new articles every Saturday, seeking to witness to the revealed beauty of God the Father's greatest masterpiece and the corresponding love with which the Mother of our Lord should properly be venerated.

The second reason for the weekly publication is for greater Marian evangelization.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux's famous maxim "de Maria numquam satis"--concerning Mary, never enough--certainly testifies to the endless volumes of potential testimonies, both theological and devotional, that we can offer to the Mother of the Redeemer and the Mother of the Church through the new outreach of cyberspace.

Q: Do you foresee the magazine as helping to facilitate a greater devotion to Mary among a younger generation that is much more computer literate?

Miravalle: Yes. In fact, the magazine also features an interactive youth section dealing with a myriad of Marian issues from a youth and teen perspective.

This was also inspired by the Holy Father and his innovative world youth days, which have been so remarkably successful in bringing in a great catch of the Church's future generation of leaders and vocations.

It is our hope that the Mother of All Peoples weekly Internet magazine will in some small way encourage all Christians and all peoples of diverse ages and cultural experiences to offer the proper veneration due to the spiritual Mother of all peoples, as called for in the great Marian scriptural prophecy: "All generations will call me blessed."

Marian Milestones; a Sporting Chance

Recent Papal Activities Stoke the Flame of Piety

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, SEPT. 9, 2004 (Zenit.org)

Summer vacation has ended and the Romans, trim and tan, trickle back from the seaside or the mountains. The weather, still gloriously sunny, is tinged with a little chill at dusk, the first meteorological clue that beach days are over and school day must start.

John Paul II has returned as well, and the resulting activity around the Vatican helps galvanize the locals into action. Of course, the Pope has been back at work long before the Romans even thought of putting away their suntan lotion.

Trips, canonizations and bishops' "ad limina" visits have marked a very busy period since mid-August and as we head into the remainder of the liturgical year, an itinerary seems to be taking shape for us.

This week, with the feast of Mary's birthday, the Nativity of the Virgin, we draw a little closer to a key milestone: the 150th anniversary of the feast of the Immaculate Conception to be celebrated on Dec. 8.

On Aug. 15, when John Paul II traveled to Lourdes to celebrate the feast of the Assumption, he brought the upcoming anniversary to center stage. This past Wednesday, the Holy Father highlighted the feast during the general audience, inviting us to "admire in the infant Mary, the purest dawn of the Redemption."

The Church celebrates only three birthdays in the liturgical calendar: the birth of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. According to Blessed Jacopo da Voragine, 13th-century author of the "Golden Legend," these symbolize three spiritual births, "for we are reborn in water in John, reborn in penance in Mary and in glory with Christ."

Christians began celebrating the feast of the Nativity of Mary around the sixth century. Like many Marian holidays, it is Eastern in origin, the earliest extant document regarding the ceremony being a hymn composed by St. Romanus of Syria.

The Roman church adopted the feast in the seventh century although in northern Europe it wasn't fully celebrated until the ninth century at the instigation of Benedictine St. Paschasius Radbertus of Soissons.

The widespread celebration of the Nativity of the Virgin opened the door to discussion regarding her conception and the question drew increasing interest by the 13th century. One of the results was an innovative iconography taken from the apocryphal gospel of St. James involving scenes from the life of the Virgin.

Giotto's landmark Arena Chapel in Verona, painted in 1306, featured this new, earthy iconography in a vigorous, narrative style. The cycle begins with St. Joachim and St. Anne, the parents of Mary.

Joachim was expelled from the Temple as he and his wife were childless. Ashamed, he fled into the desert to join the shepherds. Anne, seeing that Joachim did not return, was disconsolate. But the Lord intervened and sent an angel to both husband and wife announcing that they would indeed conceive a child.

Joachim and Anne's meeting at the gate is one of the most striking works in the history of art. The realistic intensity of their embrace reflects their joy in God's favor.

In Rome, the Nativity of the Virgin is the subject of a panel in Santa Maria in Trastevere, which could be aptly described as the swan song of mosaic. Executed around 1295 by Pietro Cavallini, the work is one of seven panels celebrating the life of the Virgin.

The Nativity, while still maintaining the medieval gold background, also emphasizes the real, natural and human aspect of the scene. St. Anne reclines on a couch while attending women offer her fruit and in the lower right, the nurse about to bathe the newborn Mary extends a hand to test the temperature of the water.

John Paul II remarked in the general audience that the Nativity of the Virgin was particularly cherished in popular piety. Between spotlighting Lourdes, visiting the holy house of Loreto, and sending the icon of Kazan to Russia, it seems that the Holy Father is inviting all people to rediscover their piety.

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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.

Pope to grace city of 'miracles' [Source: USA Today, 8/12/2004]

LOURDES, France--Almost everyone here has a story about a miracle.

The lore of this town near the Pyrenees Mountains draws 6 million people a year. They come to drink and bathe in the water that bubbles up from the grotto where Catholics believe St. Bernadette saw visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. They touch the sides of the stone cave, now smooth and shiny. And they pray for a miracle of their own.

This weekend, the most famous pilgrim of all, Pope John Paul II, will make his second and probably last visit to Lourdes. Slowed by Parkinson's disease and other ailments, he is not coming to seek a cure for his frail body; he is coming to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the belief that Mary was born without original sin in order to be the perfect mother of Christ.

The pope, who has Mary's monogram on his coat-of-arms, has made Marian piety one of the centerpieces of his historic papacy. In 2002, he expanded the rosary prayers, the best-known of all Catholic personal devotions, to include meditations on the life of Mary and Jesus. When he was shot in 1981, he said he believed Mary interceded for his recovery. He proclaimed a Marian year in 1987.

More than 300,000 pilgrims are expected to descend on Lourdes under tight security for the pope's visit. "It's a good thing for Lourdes, for people to see the pope has come," says Olivia Guinguene, a hotel owner. But when the pope last visited in 1983, "everybody was not so frightened," she says. Since the attacks in the USA Sept. 11, 2001, the terrorist bombings in Madrid and attacks on Catholic churches in Iraq, people are on edge. Roads are blocked, air traffic is restricted and employees have to wear special identification. Even the Gave River has been searched for explosives.

It was by this river that Bernadette Soubrious, 14, was gathering firewood when she saw "a lady dressed in white: She had on a white dress with a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot, the color of her rosary," according to a transcript of her words. The apparitions appeared to Bernadette 18 times over a period of five months.

When this poor, illiterate girl asked the lady her name, she answered, "I am the Immaculate Conception." The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not found in Scripture. But the belief percolated up through the centuries until it was declared dogma in 1854. That was four years before the visions appeared to Bernadette. The idea that an ignorant teen could speak of the Immaculate Conception went a long way toward convincing skeptics that Bernadette's visions were God-given. So when she said the Lady had directed her to drink from a hidden spring, the girl scratched it out of the mud and drank there, and others soon followed.

During the months of the apparitions, five miraculous cures from the spring's waters occurred, the Vatican says. The church has recognized 66 miracles there; the International Medical Committee of Lourdes, a group of about 20 doctors, has certified another 2,000 "unexplained" cures. From February to October, a steady line of pilgrims waits to approach the faucets at the grotto. The entire town now caters to visitors from all over the world. Hundreds of souvenir shops overflow with statues of Mary, rosary beads, candles and water bottles. Because so many of the travelers are elderly, sick or dying, every hotel has wheelchair access. "People always ask me if I have seen miracles," says the Rev. Liam Griffin, a coordinator here. "I have seen hundreds of miracles. But they are interior miracles--people who are ill, even dying, who are able to leave Lourdes with an inner peace they never felt before. That is the real miracle of Lourdes."

Kathleen McVeigh of Derry, Northern Ireland, says she can't explain her recent transformation at Lourdes. After one of her daughters died five years ago, McVeigh, 73, says she was overwhelmed by depression and physical ills and spent many days in bed, with no will to rise; she didn't even want to come here with her husband and five other daughters. "I cried through all of the Masses," she says. And yet, something happened during her week here. She began to laugh again and to sing. Her friends and family "can't believe it." Is it a miracle? "It's a miracle to me," she says.

The handmaid of the Lord [Source: The Irish Times, 8/7/2004]

A friend was dusting himself down this week after a bruising encounter with a woman theologian--not of the ordinary, run-of-the-mill feminist kind, but the volcanic variety. He made the basic mistake, in an otherwise mild conversation, of suggesting that the role model for women in Ireland would surely be the Virgin Mary. He had lit the blue touch-paper without knowing it and he should have retired to a safe distance. Instead he was blown away by her reply, here expurgated, to the effect that the Virgin was the patron of male chauvinists and had done more to harm the cause of women than Genghis Khan, Alf Garnett and George W. Bush.

If the lady in question reads this column, might I suggest in the least confrontational mode possible that her stream of vituperation was aimed in the wrong direction. The Virgin Mary was no compliant doormat and far from being a helpless female. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord!" she said. That has been interpreted in all kinds of ways but she never volunteered for the job: she was a conscript, involuntarily pregnant and it seems to have owed little to her faith and piety.

The years that followed were hard. As an asylum-seeker in Egypt she experienced the misery of refugees and returned to live among the scum of Nazareth. Joseph went early from her story, probably dying when Jesus was still young. The virgin mother quickly became a single mother and would have struggled to bring up her family of boys. Yet she had her proud moments, knowing that God had honoured her in ways that he had honoured no man by making her the mother of his Son.

It was her ovum which "the power of the Most High" had fertilised, her labour that brought forth Messiah, her genes that gave him his eyes, his hair and his appealing smile. It was she who told him goodnight stories about the heroes of their people, of Moses and the Exodus, David and Goliath, Elijah at Mount Carmel and the promised Messiah, the one who was to be the Hope of Israel and the light of the world.

The gospels make it abundantly clear that Mary did not understand, nor could she tell, the whole story: that the Messiah was not to be a great one, but a servant, and that one day he would be led like a lamb to the slaughterhouse, like a criminal to the execution site. Thirty years passed and then Mary's son was thrust suddenly into the limelight. "That's my boy!" she would have said when he healed the sick, calmed storms and raised the dead. She was proud when he told brilliant parables. Somehow, though, it never felt quite right and she knew the applause wouldn't last, the story would not end happily.

And even Jesus himself terrified her at times. Why provoke the Pharisees as he did? Call King Herod a fox? Talk to prostitutes and converse with Samaritans as though it was the done thing? When her boy was arrested all his male friends fled and half of Mary wanted to go into hiding, too. She knew how it would end and what happened at a crucifixion. Far better for her to go home to Galilee. But he was her boy, she had brought him into the world, and even as he hung on the cross, battered beyond recognition, she stayed. She heard the nails driven into his hands, shuddered as the cross slammed into the ground, wept as he cried that he was forsaken and then, as if recognising hope was not lost, her heart leapt when he shouted triumphantly, "It's finished!"

Did she scream at the Jews, the execution squad, even at God himself? Whoever would call her blessed now as she lay exhausted and heartbroken in John's home waiting to go to the tomb to anoint him and kiss his lips for the last time. Behold, then, this handmaid of the Lord! Mary was neither sinless nor ever-virgin but she was most certainly a hero. She faced what broke her heart, she followed her boy to Calvary and she put masculinity to abject shame then, as she does now.

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