An annual service of devotion to ‘Our Lady of Pew’ takes place at Westminster Abbey today. The Chapel of ‘Our Lady of Pew’ features a beautiful statue created by a Benedictine nun of Minster Abbey in Kent.
Sister Concordia Scott OSB sculpted the fine alabaster statue of the Virgin and Child in the niche of the Chapel. It took 14 months to complete and was placed there in May 1971.
The original statue that was there disappeared centuries ago. The design of the 20th-century piece was inspired by a 15th century English alabaster Madonna at Westminster Cathedral.
Sister Concordia Scott (1924 – 2014) was Prioress of the Minster Abbey community from 1984-1999.
Read the full story here, as found in today’s Independent Catholic News. Minster Abbey is home to our contributor, Sister Johanna Caton.
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 8 “They left for their own country by another road”
Psalm 16– You show me the path of life.
Matthew 11:25-30– Because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants.
We do not know what the wise men thought – they who were experts in astronomy and navigation – when they were warned to return by another road. They may well have been very confused, but the same light that illumined their journey showed them that there was another road, another possibility. They were called to change direction.
We often find ourselves bound by our familiar ways of doing things and of seeing the world. When these ways or ‘roads’ are closed, we wonder how to proceed and continue the journey. We have to trust that the everlasting One who gave us the light, can always find a way forward when our ways and paths are blocked. A fresh start is always possible when we are willing and open to the work of the Spirit.
As churches we look to the past and find illumination, and we look to the future in search of new ways so that we can continue to shine the light of the Gospel as we journey by another way, together.
when we only know one way and we think we must return to it,
when we think that all roads are blocked, and we fall into despair,
we always find you there, creating a new unexpected path before us.
If we search our maps and find no route,
nonetheless we always find you, who lead us by a yet more excellent way,
trusting that you will always lead us back to you
and forward in unity together. Amen.
Journeying on parallel paths or often in opposite directions
We are called by ‘another way’
to become pilgrim companions,the people of The Way.
Compasses and maps orientated
route finding and navigating together
our backpacks not burdensome, our boots crunching on,
rediscovering ancient paths,
walking humbly together with our God.
Global: What other ways of journeying together could we explore that would lead us into a better future?
Local: What do we take for granted about our daily rhythms? What blessing might someone of another tradition receive from the worship in your church? How might the worship of your church be perceived by someone of another tradition?
Personal: How does it feel when your familiar ways or traditions are challenged?
Global: Find out how communities from all over the world joined in pilgrimage for climate justice in 2021. Plan as churches together to continue the journey to a better future for the planet and for us all. Find out more at christianaid.org.uk/campaigns
Local: Organise a local pilgrimage between the churches in your area, for example, you could walk to each of the church buildings or find your nearest pilgrim route.
Personal: Journey familiar routes by another way, for example walk 50% more slowly on your errands today, what do you notice? How do you see things differently?
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 7 “Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”
Hosea 6:1-6– (v6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice)
Matthew 6:19-21– (v21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also)
The prophet Hosea is known for his cry for justice and love to override religious ritual and regulations. We are called to make a treasure of our expression of love and our work for justice and to let that be the offering that we place before the manger. We know that God does not want our riches or burnt offerings, but rather that God’s power works through our poverty: “I have no silver or gold”. The Lord desires our loving hearts, filled with mercy, truly penitent and desiring change.
Let us then prepare the gift of a heart full of love. Kneeling in worship requires hearts that are contrite for the sin that divides us and obedient to the One we serve. This obedience revives, heals and reconciles everything that is broken or wounded in us, around us, and among us as Christians.
Unity is the gift offered to us by Christ. We grow in communion as we share the graces our different traditions have received, acknowledging that the source of all our gifts is the Lord.
through your prophets you have called us to do justice,
to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you.
In Christ, you have shown us what that looks like.
Through your Holy Spirit you continually enable us to hear your words,
to follow Christ’s example, and to live as his disciples.
So, as we gather at the manger, heal our wounds,
reconcile our divisions and hold us together in your love.Amen.
Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
vainly with gifts would his favour secure
richer by far is the heart's adoration;
dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us your aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
Reginald Heber (1783-1826)
Global: Climate justice is being recognised as an expression of social justice with which churches can act together on a global scale. Why is this the case?
Local: Sometimes we talk of Christian Unity being advanced more easily when local churches work together on a specific project, often one involving an expression of social justice. How have you experienced this in your local area?
Personal: How do you consider the importance of church as a place for offering worship and as a place from which to call for social justice?
Global: Take time today to campaign for global justice. Visit the websites of CTBI agency partners (see https://ctbi.org.uk/membership/) to take part in their current campaign actions for social justice.
Local: Identify projects in your local area that need more support, and work together as churches to assist them.
Personal: Consider an issue of social justice that you’ve not been involved with previously and take time to find out more and take action.
Dear fellow travellers. We send greetings to everyone! In this week’s newsletter, in addition to news from around the world with initiatives and celebrations related to the synodal process, we give importance to Ecumenism, in the context of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, this year with the theme: “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Mt 2:2). Ecumenism and synodality The aim of the synodal process is “a hugely increased participation of the whole people of God in the life, the governance and mission of the church… If the process is successful, I think there will be a different appreciation of the Catholic Church, which will be very beneficial in the search for Christian unity.”
Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in an interview to the Lutheran World Federation Ecumenical Meeting in Austria at the end of January At the end of 2021, the Archbishop of Salzburg (Austria), Franz Lackner OFM, informed ecumenical dialogue partners about the synodal process and asked them to join the common journey on the basis of the bond of baptism and to share synodal experiences and traditions from their own confessional tradition. To make this possible, a meeting entitled “Synodality – Ecumenical Perspectives” will be held on 31 January, with the following speeches by Serbian Orthodox Bishop Andrej Cilderzic, Protestant Evangelical Methodist pastor Mag. Dorothee Büürma, the Lutheran superintendent Mag. Olivier Dantine and the former Catholic Vicar General Mag. Martin Eisenbraun. For more information…
Northern Portugal hosted an ecumenical celebration On the evening of January 18, in the Basilica of the Congregates of Braga, in the north of Portugal, several dozens of Christians participated in an ecumenical celebration with the theme “Following together the star that is Jesus Christ”. Archbishop Jorge Ortiga, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Braga, said: “We are here today to become aware that the world needs unity and communion, which begins by following that star. Only then will we be able to do something so that others may also follow us”. Jorge Pina Cabral, Bishop of the Lusitanian Church, said, he hopes that new paths will open up in the synodal journey, in the ecumenical movement and in the reality of Portugal, “so that the Epiphany of Jesus Christ will continue to happen in this time”. D.Sifredo Teixeira, bishop of the Methodist Church, said that “the churches need to cooperate to relieve the afflicted and burdened, to build a more just and honest society”.
Ecumenism and synodality hand in hand From Argentina, the journalist and priest Marcelo Figueroa, has pointed out the importance of not forgetting the ecumenical and interreligious perspectives on the of the Latin American and Caribbean Ecclesial Assembly and the future of the Church in the continent, also taking advantage of the momentum of the synodal journey. It would be important “to be united with other Christian confessions of faith through prayer and the Word of God in a practical and not merely declaratory way. In humble listening, empathy, and acceptance of the worldviews of the native peoples of this indigenous, multicultural and multilingual continent”.
Sharing creativity This week we suggest some audiovisual materials to deepen the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with creativity: Father Zezinho invites us to meditate with his songs “Iguais”:
“But in one thing we are the same. We seek the same God We love the same Father We want the same heaven We cry the same laments”.
Iguais – Pe. Zezinho (Feat. Coro Edipaul) Paulinas Comep, Brazil
PRAYER FOR THE ECUMENICAL FELLOWSHIP CAMPAIGN – 2021
God of life, justice and love, we praise you for the gift of fraternity and for granting us the grace to live communion in diversity.
Through this Ecumenical Fraternity Campaign help us to be witnesses of the beauty of dialogue as a commitment of love, creating bridges that unite instead of walls that separate and generate indifference and hatred. Make us sensible and ready to serve all humanity, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, that we may be witnesses of your redeeming love and share their pain and anguish, their joys and hopes, walking the paths of love.
Through Jesus Christ, our peace, in the Holy Spirit, restorer of the breath of life. Amen.
* The Ecumenical Fraternity Campaign is an initiative organised every five years by the National Council of Churches of Brazil, formed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Confession of Brazil, the Episcopal Anglican of Brazil, the United Presbyterian, the Syrian Orthodox of Antioch and the Alliance of Baptists of Brazil. We also recommend the sacred Oratorio SMOTRENJE “Lo sguardo” composed by Monsignor Marco Frisina, member of the Commission on Spirituality, performed on January 20, 2019 at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, on the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The Synod in the world
Politicians in the diocesan phase of the Synod in Madrid “What would you ask of the Church?”: this is the question that the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Carlos Osoro, launched to more than twenty politicians from different parties in the chapter hall of the Cathedral of Almudena to participate in the diocesan phase of the Synod of Bishops.Before giving way to the reflections of the leaders – among them, believers, and non-believers and of all the formations (Ciudadanos, Más Madrid, Podemos, PP, PSOE, Recupera Madrid and Vox) -, the Archbishop of Madrid thanked them for their good disposition and encouraged them to “build bridges”. Several local and regional leaders have valued the figure of Pope Francis and have cited the encyclical Fratelli tutti. They stressed the urgency of ensuring “respect for human dignity” and the centrality of the human being, while celebrating the work of the Successor of Peter for the care of creation or in defense of migrants.
Synodality: a possible solution in crisis situations At the end of their Plenary Assembly, the bishops of the Central African Episcopal Conference issued a message in which they attempt to outline, in the light of synodality, some ways to find solutions to some of the country’s challenges.Read the message in French
Superiors of Congregations animate in the diocesan phase The Superior General of the Daughters of Jesus, Graciela Francovig, invited all the sisters of the congregation to participate in the synodal process in the parishes because it can be a very rich moment of ecclesial collaboration.For his part, Alberto Toutin, Superior General of the Sacred Hearts, invited his religious family to “listen to one another, so that this listening changes us, disposes us to the God who never tires of coming to meet us, through the voice of his Spirit”, within the synodal process in the different communities and works where the Congregation serves. Listening to the voice of the poorest The Centre Sèvres-Paris is planning a study day on 27 January on the “missionary dream of reaching out to all”. (Evangelii Gaudium 31). Can participatory processes make this dream possible? How can listening to the poorest be a promise for the whole Church?If you want to know more… The Diocese of Aveyron (France) has launched an original proposal to celebrate a family or friends’ meal to talk about the Synod. With the participation of all the diners, each dish deals with a question related to the Church. To know more…
We go to Quebec, where three bishops invite us to have coffee. Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Bishop Marc Pelchat and Bishop Martin Laliberté discuss the Synod.To know more …
Synod is for everyone The Society for the Latin Mass of England and Wales has developed a guide for the participation of its members.If you want to know more… The Synod on TVEThe program Últimas Preguntas on TVE, which is broadcasted every Sunday, is continuously monitoring the Synod. On January 16, it looked at the work being done in the different Spanish dioceses, mainly in the diocese of Palencia, which has stood out for the variety of materials offered to address the synodality in all ages. Share your story! Are you witnessing or living a particular synodal experience? Do you think you have experienced a good practice and want to share it? Fill in the attached form and send it to email@example.com. If your story appears to be original or considered a good practice, we will publish it in our next newsletter and who knows… maybe even in VaticanNews!
The Synod in the Vatican: the Dicastery for Communication
Next to every diocese in the world, next to every believer and next to every other dicastery of the Roman Curia, we too, as the Dicastery for Communication, have asked ourselves how we can take up the invitation to participate in the synodal process. How can we ensure that our contribution is not simply limited to ‘amplifying the voice of the Pope’, but rather becomes an opportunity for a synodal conversion, which concerns us all? How can we rediscover ourselves as ‘members of one another’ even in a body of the Roman Curia? How can we adhere to…Continue to read…
Pray for the Synod In order to support the synodal journey and ask for the Spirit’s assistance, together with the World Network of Prayers of the Pope and UISG, we have set up a website in 5 languages: Church on the Way. Pray for the Synod. From 2 November, you too can send your prayer. See how to do it… Copyright 2022 General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, All rights reserved. You are receiving this email because you opted in via our website.
Our mailing address is: General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops Via della Conciliazione, 34 Vatican City 00120 Vatican City State (Holy See) Add us to your address book
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 6 They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage Matthew 2:11
Psalm 84–How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Mt 28:16-20–When they saw him, they worshipped him.
When the Magi from their far-away countries arrived at Bethlehem and saw the child with his mother, they worshipped him. In the presence of this revelation of God among us, eyes were cast down and knees bent. Similarly, when the disciples saw the risen Christ on the mountain in Galilee, they were amazed and troubled. Yet they worshipped him.
Do we see? Are we amazed? Are we truly worshipping? How many times do we remain blind to God’s presence? How can we worship in truth if we do not really see first? In our narrow vision, too often we see only our tangled disagreements, forgetting that God’s saving grace is to all, and that we share in the one Spirit who draws us into unity. Often in our pride we follow human laws and traditions, disregarding the love we are called to share as one people justified by Christ’s blood.
As communities enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are called to walk together towards the Christ-Child, offering homage as one people. The Spirit of compassion guides us to each other and only by following this guide will we be able to “worship in spirit and truth”.
in your mercy, remove the scales from our eyes
and lead us to repent and to worship you.
In the midst of our sorrow and despite the depth of our sin,
give us the capacity to love you with all our hearts.
As we journey together with one heart and mind,
may we glorify you in the Spirit’s fellowship,
and witness to those around us.Amen.
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in Heav'n we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Charles Wesley, 1747
Global: What are you doing as part of your own pattern of worship to pray for the worldwide church?
Local: Within your worship as a local Christian community what are the barriers you face to greater unity and how might they be overcome?
Personal: Can you remember a time when you were able to worship “in spirit and in truth”? What was it like?
Personal: Find and join an online service from a church of a different tradition. Join in this act of worship and reflect on what riches God has shown you through this different experience of worship together.
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 5 “Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising”
Psalm 121–I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?
Matthew 2:7-10–Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising
Again and again, the scriptures tell us how God walks with us. The path may not always be straight: sometimes we are led to retrace our steps, sometimes to return by a different route. But in all our journeying through life, we can be confident that God, who neither “sleeps nor slumbers”, is with us when we slip or fall.
Even in the greatest darkness, God’s light is with us. Most perfectly, in the fullness of time, God sends Jesus Christ, who is the guiding light for all nations, the glory of God in the world, the source of divine light and life.
The way ahead into unity with one another, into closer union with Christ, is not always clear. In our earnest attempts to build unity ourselves it is all too easy to lose sight of this fundamental message of the scriptures: that God does not abandon his people even in their failures and divisiveness. This is God’s message of hope for the whole world. As the story of the Magi reminds us, God guides people of all kinds, by the light of the star, to where Christ, the light of the world, is to be found.
God our Guide,
you sent the star to lead the Magi to your only begotten Son.
Fill us with the confidence that you are walking with us.
Open our eyes to your Spirit, and encourage us in our faith,
so that we may confess that Jesus is Lord,
and worship him as the Magi did in Bethlehem.
Hope of my heart, strength of my soul,
Guide Thou my footsteps and keep me whole;
My grace and fortress, Thou wilt be,
Oh, let Thy mighty hand ever lead me.
Barney E Warren, 1893
Global: As a global community we continue to face many challenges. How do we seek God’s guidance in our response to those challenges?
Local: How is God guiding your Christian community at this time? Where are you being called to act?
Personal: Reflect on a time when you have felt or seen God’s guidance. What was that like?
Global: Start (or continue) a conversation around your Christian community about how you are responding to the challenges of climate justice. As churches, take part in global prayer and action for climate justice (https://www.prayandact4climate.org).
Local: Plan a Climate Sunday service between the churches in your locality. Visit climatesunday.org for resources and inspiration.
Personal: Seek out a community to be part of to support you in your action responding to global challenges. For example if you like craft you could turn your skills into activism in community with the craftivist-collective.com.
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
And you, Bethlehem… are by no means least.
Micah 5:2-5a, 7-8 From you shall come forth … one who is to rule in Israel 1 Peter 2: 21-25 Now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls Luke 12:32-40 Do not be afraid, little flock
SpringSummerSynodwinterYear of MercyAdd New Category
Add New TagSaint Luke (1 of 11)Saint Lukefear (2 of 11)fearjustice (3 of 11)justiceKingdom (4 of 11)Kingdom
Reflection Today we consider why God chooses to act in and through seemingly insignificant places and people, and what God does with them. These are not new questions – in fact they are the favourite paradoxes of preachers in the Christmas and Epiphany seasons – yet they continue to challenge us. The prophet Micah speaks directly to Bethlehem and predicts its greatness as the home of the shepherd who will defend God’s people.
The First Letter of Peter tells people who have already begun to identify Jesus Christ with the Messiah that he is the shepherd who willingly suffers to save the flock. The Gospel of Luke reassures the ‘little flock’ of Christ’s followers that they need have no fear, because God has promised them the Kingdom.
We receive these messages of consolation, directed to particular people at a particular time, in the context of our own concerns and longing for consolation. They invite us to take part in God’s transformation of inequality, violence and injustice, not to wait passively for these things to happen. They call on us to be politically aware; to be locally ready to make our churches little Bethlehems where Christ can be born in generosity and hospitality; to recognise ourselves as a ‘little flock’, unimportant perhaps in the world’s eyes, but with a value and a vocation in the great mystery of salvation.
Prayer Good Shepherd, the fragmentation of your ‘little flock’ grieves the Holy Spirit. Forgive our weak efforts and slowness in the pursuit of your will.
Go and do (see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) Global: Visit Amos Trust to find out more about how to create peace with justice in the Middle East. Local: Plan as churches together to pray for peace in the middle east on the 24th of every month. You can use resources from Christian Aid to aid your prayers. Personal: Bring the fears that keep you in division from other traditions before the Good Shepherd in prayer. Meditate on the words of the Good Shepherd – ‘do not be afraid, little flock.’
For the 2022 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Cardinal Mario Grech and Cardinal Kurt Kochinvite all Christians to pray for unity and to continue to journey together.
In a joint letter sent on 28 October 2021 to all bishops responsible for ecumenism, Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Grech, General Secretary of the Synod of the Bishops, wrote: “Both synodality and ecumenism are processes of walking together.”
The 2022 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the theme “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Mt 2: 2) prepared by the Middle East Council of Churches, offers an occasion to pray with all Christians that the Synod will proceed in an ecumenical spirit.
Both Cardinals affirm “Like the Magi, Christians too journey together guided by the same heavenly light and encountering the same worldly darkness. They too are called to worship Jesus together and open their treasures. Conscious of our need for the accompaniment and the many gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we call on them to journey with us during these two years and we sincerely pray that Christ will lead us closer to Him and so to one another.”
The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity are therefore pleased to offer this prayer:
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
‘We Saw His Star in the East’.
King Herod was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him
Reflection Christ’s coming disturbs the ways of the world. He comes in humility, denouncing the evil of injustice and oppression that accompanies the ambition for power, wealth and status. Jesus calls for a change of heart and a transformation of life, which will bring liberation from all that dehumanises. This creates disturbance precisely because he rocks the boat of those who seek only their own interests and neglect the common good. But for those who work for peace and unity, Christ’s coming brings the light of hope.
We are invited to commit ourselves to act constructively to make justice a reality, acknowledging where we have strayed from God’s ways of justice and peace. Then the answer to our prayer for Christian unity becomes visible as others recognise in us Christ’s presence in the world. We can bring the light of hope to those living in the darkness of political unrest, social poverty, and structural discrimination. The Good News is that God is faithful, always strengthening and protecting us, inspiring us to work for the good of others, especially the victims of oppression, hatred, violencand pain.
Lord, you led us out of darkness to hope in Jesus.
Unite us in our commitment to establish your reign of love, justice and peace,
bringing light to those living in the darkness of despair and disillusionment.
Shine your light upon us and surround us with the warmth of your love.
Lift us up to you, so that our lives may glorify you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Psalm 2:1-10 Why do the nations conspire…?
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 But the Lord is faithful, he will strengthen you
Go and do
Global: Covid-19 turned the world upside down and provided an opportunity to reimagine how things could be. Find out more about and get involved in the campaign to crack the crises and ensure this opportunity for transformation is not lost.
Local: Consider as churches together what situations of injustice or exclusion exist in your locality. Work with others in your community to challenge and change the systems that need turning upside-down.
Personal: Take time today to sit in stillness and discern what injustice most disturbs your conscience, spend time praying, researching and planning how you can take action about it (if you are not already involved in doing so).
Verse / Poem
In the school Nativity Play
they cast the class bully as Herod.
No acting required.
Jesus, you ask
which role shall I play
in my world, your world, today.
And you will me to seek first
your holy inspiration
that I might be just
QuestionsGlobal: Where have you seen the values of the Church disturbing
society’s values for the common good?
Local: Is your church or group of churches too comfortable in a
discomforting world? How could your church or group be disturbed into
Personal: When have you been disturbed into doing what was right?
My Catholic primary school taught us stories from the Bible, one between two at a shared desk. We also heard about miracles outside Scripture, including visitations of Our Lady, especially at Lourdes and Fatima. I came to feel the emphasis on these ‘private revelations’ was excessive, but visiting England’s Walsingham, a shrine for almost 1000 years, set me thinking about the role of Mary ever since.
We’d been told that only Catholics honour Mary, yet Walsingham has beautiful Anglican and Orthodox Shrines as well as the Catholic one. Each one made us welcome. We learned that icons like the Mother of Perpetual Succour came from the East. Later, joining ecumenical pilgrimages meant walking and talking, eating and praying together.
This book may inspire the reader to go on pilgrimage to one of the featured shrines, or to turn the pages while voyaging in imagination, beads in your hand, a candle and pilgrim’s shell beside you. The many well-chosen pictures will help you to be there.
Doctor Samuel Johnson, a devout 18th Century Anglican philosopher, had this to say regarding pilgrimage: ‘To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible’. In other words, there is room to be led by feelings as well as by intellectual theology when visiting shrines.
The book may set you thinking about Mary and her place in the life of the Church. When it first opened Walsingham’s Anglican shrine attracted charges of ‘Mariolatry’ – idolising Mary. Less stridently, others judge the honour given to Mary to be obscuring her Son. But on the Feast of the Assumption this year, Pope Francis pointed out that Mary was and remains humble, so that God was able to beget his Son through her and pour out blessings through her, down to today. So it is in humility that we should set out on pilgrimage, on foot, by transport, or through the imagination.
Whoever receives an apparition can expect grief from a naturally sceptical world and a deliberately sceptical Church which has to discern the spirits at work in these incidents. But once the Church has accepted an apparition as genuine, we can follow Johnson’s advice: ‘Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue.’
Wincenty Laszewski has limited his explorations to apparitions beginning from the late 19th Century, thus omitting Lourdes which still witnesses renewal of faith as well as physical and emotional healings. Renewal and healing occur at other shrines too, and Laszewski leads us to many across the world.
Fatima, whose Sister Lucia certainly suffered at the hands of the Church, is well known but most of these shrines were new to me. At Beauraing, Belgium, in the 1930s the children who saw and heard Mary came from families indifferent to religion; it was only after the Occupation ended that the local bishop could pronounce the supernatural nature of the events. The children faded into the background, later marrying and raising Christian families. Thus they lived out their response to Mary’s two questions: “Do you love my Son?” and “Do you love me?”
Far from there, in Ngome, South Africa, a German Benedictine missionary received visions in the 1950s. Sister Reinolda heard from Mary that she should be addressed as ‘Tabernacle of the Most High’, as she had held Jesus, the Host, in her womb and in her arms. It was time for Christians to be ‘a sea of hosts’ to bring Christ’s salvation to the world; a poetic but doctrinally orthodox idea. We are the Body of Christ, as Saint Paul proclaims (1 Corinthians 12:27). Mary also asked for a shrine where seven springs come together.
In Egypt it was at a Coptic Orthodox Church dedicated to Mary that she was seen by thousands of Muslims and Christians on a number of occasions. As always there is scepticism from more than one side, theories of mass suggestion or natural phenomena or fakery, as Laszewski makes plain. But in the spirit of ecumenism which characterises Egyptian Christianity, the Catholic Church accepts the judgement of the Orthodox Patriarch’s Commission that the apparitions, and subsequent individual healings, were God’s work.
Scepticism is an honest position to adopt towards apparitions, and always the first stance of the Church which proclaims Christ Crucified, foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). But Mary makes the sign of the cross during many apparitions, indicating that the Cross is central to her message. Those who accept the divine origin of the apparitions should not disdain people who are indifferent or unmoved.
As time goes by, shrines may continue to flourish in ways that the original visionaries could not have expected. Who would have predicted today’s ecumenical scene in Walsingham? Mary was seen here before the Reformation, before even the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity; now it is a place where some of those wounds are being healed. What blessings will be made available to the faithful and the world as these modern shrines find their lasting mission?
A few points regarding Wincenty Laszewski’s labour of love. At p197 he wrongly portrays Frank Duff as seeking permission of St John Paul II to found the Legion of Mary. Duff had begun this work in 1921 in Dublin, more than half a century before meeting the Pope in Poland. Saint Pius X became Pope in 1903, not 1913. Laszewski relates how his predecessor, Leo XIII had a vision of the 20th Century and its evils. The Pope did not reveal details of this event, but Laszewski claims it as a Marian Apparition because Leo championed the Rosary. Pious suppositions are not history!
I would not be alone in scratching my head over Laszewski’s description of Ngome as a place where natural realities came into contact with the supernatural. Springs of water have always been places where contact with the supernatural is a given, as at the Pool of Bethesda, or Lourdes, or many a holy well. In the words Chesterton put into the mouth of Mary, speaking to King Alfred:
The gates of Heaven are lightly locked,
We do not guard our gain,
The heaviest hind may easily
Come silently and suddenly
Upon me in a lane.
Lord, grant us eyes to see with and to discern your presence in the people we meet.