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Mary, Queen of May and Mother of the Universe

Once more we come to the Month of May, the Month of Mary the Blessed Virgin. It is also the month of renewal when all nature comes to life and the countryside is a blaze of colour with a profusion of blooms. It has always been, for most of us, the time when we looked forward to the May processions in honour of the Mother of Christ when we sang of bringing the rarest and fairest of flowers to crown our blessed Mother, Queen of the Angels and Queen of May.

Yes, I recall even as a child it was Mary’s month when our hearts were filled with joy and everybody had its own shrine to our Lady at which we gathered for the family rosary; and we gathered flowers to bring to school where there was a shrine in each classroom.


Our Lady of Assumption

Devotion is not a mere matter of sentiment. Devotion to Mary is a reverential and loving imitation of our heavenly Queen and Mother. It contains three elements: Veneration, Affection and Service. Yet the maternal and sympathising figure of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is so close to the human heart - of any human heart - whatever its culture, its time, its religion that the Blessed Virgin is loved and venerated beyond the Christian world! The Virgin is universally honoured as being pure; she is the Mother who is able to understand the human heart and man’s need for love which is always the same on every horizon.

Thus for example, in various other religions so remote from the Christian Revelation, Mary is perceived as a Mother full of love whose tenderness is matched only by her courage to defend her beloved Son. For this reason, many followers of these non-Christian religions are attracted to the Mother of Jesus and go to extent of even praying to her, as they would to their own mother. Mary appears as a living, breathing, three-dimensional lady enveloped in exquisite light. Visionaries and seers describe a beautiful, young woman glowing in radiant splendour.

Seers, while describing her as brilliant to behold and arrayed with every splendour, admit that the ‘Queen of Heaven’ transcends human description.

Indeed, her name is so exalted, so fêted that there are more churches, shrines and women that bear her name more than any other both locally and internationally.

So much so in fact a veteran editor/author once described the phenomenon as: “Among all the women who ever lived, the Mother of Jesus Christ is the most celebrated, the most venerated and the most honoured in the naming of girl babies and churches.”

Visionaries also report seeing strange lights and glorious visions that often accompany an apparition. Visions of angels, glowing orbs, tongues of fire, mysterious solar phenomena, and peculiar luminous clouds have been sighted. Because of the tremendous pleasure and joy experienced by seers during an apparition, the term “ecstasy” is the word most often used to describe this event.

Those who have witnessed her, admit that they are paralysed and enraptured by her beauty and charm.

Numerous healings and miracles have been reported at apparition sites around the globe. In addition, the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary has repeatedly announced that the most significant signs and wonders are yet future! She admits that she has not yet revealed her full glory to the world. She predicts heavenly signs and events that the whole world will witness in the very near future.

The popularity of the Virgin and her messages has grown to mammoth proportions. Marian historians are quick to point out that apparitions of Mary have been recorded throughout the centuries, but never in the history of Marian apparitions has she appeared with such consistency and frequency as in our day.


Our Lady Our Hope

In 1997, ‘Newsweek’ ran a cover story on the Virgin Mary. In the article they write: “In many ways, the 20th century has belonged to Mary. From almost every continent, visionaries have reported more than 400 ‘apparitions’ of the Virgin - more than in the previous three centuries combined.… Taken together, these visions point to what the Marian Movement believes is a millennial ‘Age of Mary’.

Prayer to our Lady for Our Country

O Most Loving and Tender Mother,
Queen and Patroness of Sri Lanka,
We humbly ask you to look upon us,
your children, in our hour of need.
Dearest Mother, you have come to our rescue,
even in times of peril,
from war and destruction.
In your never failing love for us,
we earnestly ask you,
to dispel from our midst,
all forms of violence and hatred.
Help us to build in our land,
God’s Kingdom of Justice and Love.
Knowing your abiding Love
and concern for us, dear mother,
we entrust to your loving care and guidance,
all races and peoples of our country.
Help us to bring about brotherhood,
peace and unity in our society.
Guide the destinies of our nation
and obtain for us lasting peace
so that all of us may live as brothers
and sisters of one family.

Amen

We might expect this phenomenon to occur in countries that are predominately Catholic, but apparitions are being reported from Japan to Africa, from Korea to Australia, from Iraq to Israel, from Egypt to Syria.

Whether looking deep within the former Soviet Union or among the peoples of India, one thing is found in common - they are all allegedly being visited by a woman who calls herself Mary, the Queen of Heaven, Our Lady. Father Robert Faricy, quoted in the book ‘Queen of the Cosmos, states: “Never in the history of Christianity has the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to so many people over so long a period of time with such regularity. Moreover, it seems that the apparitions at Medjugorje have ushered in a new Marian age. There are reports of her appearing everywhere.”

In his book ‘Call of the Ages’, author Thomas W. Petrisko writes: “Millions and millions on all continents of the globe have heard and responded to the Virgin Mary’s apparitions and messages. Indeed, there is a significant upswing in attendance at Marian shrines everywhere.”

Almost all of the apparitions have stated that Mary is going to usher in a new era of peace and unity.

Under her mantle all people will gather in peace and solve the problems facing the world. Her emphasis on unity and ecumenism has garnered attention from the media.

‘The Los Angeles Times’ reported in their December 25, 1998 issue in an article entitled ‘Mary’s Rising Popularity Goes Beyond Faith’ that: “A growing number of Americans from all Christian denominations are reaching out to the Virgin Mary as a comforting conduit of spirituality and a symbol of peace in troubled times. Reported sightings of Mary have steadily increased across the globe in recent years.… Her maternal gaze seems to have an ecumenical appeal.… It’s not just Roman Catholics who are interested in Mary and following the apparitions.… Each day, thousands of people bring their troubles to the sites where the Virgin is claimed to have appeared.”

In 1996, ‘Life Magazine’ featured Mary on the cover and asked these questions: “Why are two billion Hail Marys said daily? Why did five million people, many non-Christian, visit Lourdes this year to drink the healing waters? Why did more than 10 million trek to Guadalupe to pray to Our Lady?… Why the apparitions? Why are Mary hymns creeping into Methodist songbooks? … What is it about Mary?” The ‘Life’ article goes on to list numerous apparitions and to quote various statistics. For instance, ‘Life’ notes that “In Italy, 50 weeping Madonna statues have been reported in the past two years.”

‘Life Magazine’ notes that Mary’s popularity is not just among Catholics: “One of the intriguing aspects of the latest rise of Mary is this: The emotional need for her is so irresistible to a troubled world that people without an obvious link to the Virgin are being drawn to her.

It’s not news that Muslims revere Mary as a pure and holy saint - she’s mentioned 34 times in the Koran,…but to see large numbers of Muslims making pilgrimages to Christian Marian shrines is a remarkable thing. Interdenominational Marian prayer groups are springing up throughout the world.”

Why does she appeal to so many? Is it possible that many are drawn by the numerous reported miracles, signs, and wonders? In a world that seeks interaction with the supernatural, it is no surprise that many flock to the miraculous.

These miracles, if true, would rival the miracles performed in Moses’ day. Consider that at several apparition sites, a phenomenon known as “the Miracle of the Sun” has been seen by hundreds of thousands.

In Sri Lanka a special prayer to Our Lady was recited at every Mass in every Church during the prolonged secessionist war (See Box).

The prayer of all peace-loving Sri Lankans was finally answered. The country is at peace, but the prayer is continued to be recited in every church at every service as a remembrance of thanksgiving to Our Lady of Sri Lanka.


More than 10,000 pilgrims attend Marian May devotions:

Virgin of Madhu, our bridge to peace and unity

Sri Lankans have once again begun praying to the Blessed Mother at the national Madhu Marian shrine during May. More than 10,000 people attended a special Mass and prayer service on May 22 at the shrine located in the jungles of northeastern Sri Lanka.

The shrine, which was shelled many times during the country’s three decade long conflict has re-opened although removing of land mines in the area is still continuing. The venerated Marian statue was removed by church authorities in April 2008 to prevent it from being damaged during heavy fighting. The statue was returned to the shrine later on.“We pray to Mother Mary to intercede on our post war problems. People are disempowered and poor and they are marginalized and cut off from the mainstream society and political life,” said Indrani Fernando, a pilgrim from the south.


The miraculous statue of Our Lady of Madhu

The 400-year-old shrine acts as a centre for devotion for both Tamil and Sinhalese Catholics. It has also been a symbol of unity among people of different religions, including Buddhists, Hindus and Protestants. Special programmes were organised at the shrine in honour of the Blessed Mother during May, traditionally considered the Marian month.

Although, the war that has been raging in the country for three decades stopped the flow of devotees to the sylvan shrine in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it nevertheless remained in the hearts and minds of the faithful over the years.

This month the Madhu Shrine celebrates befittingly the usual Marian devotions as lights in the Madhu Shrine flicker with thousands of candles in honour of the Matriarch of Sri Lanka.

“It is a forest pilgrimage. Putting up camps in the forest and praying in silence is a marvelous experience ,” said Dharshani Mendis a devotee who had visited the shrine.

“The Madhu Church, in particular has an opportunity to build bridges between the two communities because this is one place which straddles the Tamil areas in the north and Sinhalese areas in the south,” she added, explaining the significance of the shrine.

The Madhu Church which stands inside thick jungles of Mannar has been historically famous for its miracles and the healing power of its soil. In 1920, Bishop Brault who had a very specialdevotion to Our Lady of Madhu, obtained the Pope’s sanction for the historic solemn coronation of the Statue of Our Lady of Madhu. The Holy Father granted this favor of coronation of Our Lady. In 1924 it was officially crowned by the Papal Legate who came in the name of Pope Pius XI.

The Church was consecrated in 1944 during World War II. In preparation for the consecration ceremony, a marble altar replaced the old wooden structure and the whole sanctuary was covered with white and blue marble. In spite of travel restrictions and difficulties finding conveyance, more than 30,000 people came to the jungle shrine.

The statue of Our Lady of Madhu had been taken on procession thrice to the parishes in Sri Lanka, in 1948, 1974 and in 2001. It was a spiritual effort to encourage Catholics in Sri Lanka to pray for peace and an end to the raging civil war.

In 1970 the new Bishop arranged an annual festival to be celebrated on July 2. But in recent years the August 15 festival draws the biggest crowds because it is one of the most hallowed days for Catholics celebrating the day of Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven and also because the school holidays facilitate entire families to make the trip.

The jungles on the sides of the road are being cleared of mines. Since the war ended the pilgrims have been arriving in the tens of thousands, in vans, buses, trucks, public transport, and some in tuk-tuk three-wheelers. At the shrine, the faint but constant hum of prayers and hymns rise above the rustling of pilgrims’ feet. Large piles of slippers, sandals and an assortment of shoes of every nature accumulated by the doors outside the church. Families pray together, others line up in a long queue that slowly snake around the church to get a brief moment to touch the altar where the venerated statue is kept.

Though the main church, now renovated, has survived hardly unscathed, the side church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on its right until recently bore the marks of years of war. Its roof had blown off and at the end was a ruined statue of Jesus Christ, destroyed by a shell that had hit the building. Worshippers then tied coins to the statue as part of their vows.

The Virgin of Madhu has survived wars and immense turmoil since her arrival on the island in the 1500s. In the late 1600s, she survived Dutch prosecution and was rediscovered, unharmed, hidden inside a tree, 400 years later. Last year, she survived shell and gun fire and has once again returned to her home.

For the millions who believe in her, the Virgin of Madhu is the beacon of hope and peace for a better country. As one pilgrim put it so appropriately and with a touching ring of faith: “The Virgin will always keep us safe...She will never let us down. She has always been with us. She was with us for thirty years through war and she will be with us forever.”

For millions of other Sri Lankans, that hope, shines brighter than ever.

CF


The Magnificat


Our lady visits Elizabeth

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
My spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.

Gospel of Luke 1:46-56

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