The Multicultural Mary, Mother of God

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In recent days, there has been backlash about some depictions of Christ and his Blessed Mother. Though a blonde Mary and a pale Jesus are not exactly historically accurate, that doesn’t mean such images shouldn’t exist. Bishop Hying of Madison, Wisconsin explained it this way:

“[T]he principle of enculturation merits our reflection here. In the Catholic Church, every culture, country, ethnicity, and race has claimed Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary as their own. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego as a mestiza, African art depicts Jesus as Black, Asian depictions of the Blessed Mother, too, take on similarities of both bodily appearance and, often, cultural garb.”

Bishop Donald Hying

Well said.

So, to celebrate the ways in which different people have claimed the Blessed Mother as their own, check out these depictions of Mary from different cultures.

Our Lady of Czestochowa-Poland

The exact origins of the miraculous image of Mary in Czestochowa are unknown. Legend says that it was painted by St. Luke. The intercession of Mary, under this title, has been credited with saving cities from invasion on numerous occasions. The colors of the image have darkened over time from soot left by candles, leading to the image being referred to as “the Black Madonna”.

Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos – Mexico

In the town of San Juan de los Lagos, is the second most visited religious site in Mexico. In the 17th century, a Franciscan brought an image of Our Lady to the chapel there. In time the image fell in disrepair and disuse until the sudden death of a young girl. She and her family were visiting trapeze artists. As the mourners gathered the wife of chapel’s sacristan brought out the old image and told the people to pray. Suddenly, the girl was revived. The grateful family paid to the image restored. The Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos still sits today in what is now a grand cathedral.

Our Lady of La Vang – Vietnam

During a period of persecution, some Catholics in Vietnam fled to the jungle to escape. After many years and hardships, one day as they community was praying a woman appeared to them. She encouraged the suffering people and taught them how to make a tea to keep them healthy. She promised that those who prayed at the spot would be heard and answered. After the persecution ended, news of the lady spread and a church was built. In 1959 La Vang was declared a national shrine.

Madonna del Miracolo – Italy

Alfonso Ratisbonne was a well-off Jewish man. Due to his brother’s conversion and call to the priesthood, he had a strong distaste for Catholicism. When he happened to be visiting Rome, a friend who was a devout Catholic challenged Ratisbonne to wear a miraculous medal and recite the memorare. Ratisbonne agreed to the odd wager, planning to prove his friend wrong and Catholicism false. The two visited the Basilica of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte. There, Ratisbonne saw the vision of Madonna del Miracolo. Our Lady did not speak a word but Ratisbonne was immediately convicted and converted to the Catholic faith on the spot.

Our Lady of Kibeho -Rwanda

In the early 1980’s over 30 people in Rwanda claimed to have visions of Our Lady. Three of these people were determined by the Church to be credible. These visionaries were Alphonsine Mumureke, Anathalie Mukamazimpaka, and Marie-Claire Mukangango. Each saw visions of a women who called herself “the Mother of the Word”. Some of the visions were violent and seem to have been predictions of the Rwandan genocide of the following decade.

Our Lady of Aparecida – Brazil

In 1717 fishermen in Brazil got more than they bargained for. After several fruitless hours, they cast their net in once again. This time, the net came back with apiece of wood that appeared to be a small statue of the Blessed Mother with the head broken off. The net was cast again and this time brought up another piece of wood, the head for the statue. At the third cast, the net cam back full of fish. Over the years, many miracles have been credited to Our Lady of Aparecida.

Our Lady of Walsingham – England

The original Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was constructed in the 11th century by an English noblewoman who had prayed to do something in the service of the Blessed Mother. She received a vision of Nazareth and was asked to make a replica of the home where the Annunciation occurred. That shrine and the original statue of Our Lady of Walsingham were destroyed during the Reformation. A new shrine was established in the 19th century and a new statue modeled after the original was created. Both Catholics and Anglicans today have a devotion to Our Lady under this title.

Our Lady of Montserrat

In 880, the story goes, shepherd children near Montserrat saw a light come from the sky accompanied by a beautiful song. This continued for a number of weeks then the image of the Blessed Mother was found in a cave. The wood carving still exists today though the fading varnish has turned the color of the hands and faces of Mary and Jesus a dark black.

Our Lady of Donglu – China

In 1900, Boxers threatened a small, poor village in China called Donglu that consisted mostly of Catholics. The local priest pleaded with Our Lady on behalf of his flock. As the Boxers approached, a vision of a woman surrounded in light appeared in the sky. They fled and left the village untouched. In commemoration of the rescue and gratitude, the priest had an image of the Blessed Mother commissioned. This would become known as Our Lady of China or Our Lady of Donglu.

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