During the difficult time in which we find ourselves due to the increasingly serious effects of the coronavirus in our country it has been encouraging and supportive to receive a Pastoral letter from the South African Council of Churches (SACC) on behalf of many of the Christian churches including the SACBC. See www.sacc.org.za and www.sacbc.org.za. It reminds us, “We write to say, God is with us even in these times of perplexing national pain.” It concludes “We are the children of hope. It is hope informed by the ever present Holy Spirit given to us in Christ, to keep a good conscience and exercise charity amongst our people.”
The message that is continually put out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and our government involves solidarity, co-operation and a call to heed the advice and directives to STAY AT HOME and wear a face mask in any public place. Many, but not all the people, are obeying or heeding this advice, possibly not sufficiently aware that non-adherence affects us all, while, for some, aspects of safety are seen as secondary to economic survival. The churches echo the message and note the difficulties.
From a Catholic perspective I believe that we welcome the letter but also find it disappointing, even painful that, for us, a very important element is missing; the presence of Mary, Our Blessed Mother. To her we have taken our petitions and she has been instrumental and a support to the suffering during many plagues across the world over the centuries. Pope Francis on 27 March in the special prayer meeting invoked her special help. For the month of May, and his encouragement to pray the Rosary, he has asked for special prayers to be added, one of which is appended in the Reflection section of this FAMILY WEEKLY newsletter.
Has this word reached most of our Catholic community who are deprived from participating in the Eucharist in their parish church but not deprived from praying at home? Many rosaries are being prayed all over the world leading up to the feast of Our Lady of Fatima on 13 May and will continue to be prayed, ideally together. In addition, in our homes, have we used this time to learn how to communicate meaningfully, share our concerns, our fears for the future as parents and children? It seems to me that Catholics are better at reciting prayers than at sharing their lives with one another and with God, who listens and knows our stories well. I wonder who would agree with me on this point. While the Rosary as a whole is clearly a prayer, or more a form of praying as a series of meditations, the fact that we repeat the Our Father and Hail Mary so many times does not lend itself to reflecting on those words. These two prayers are too often recited thoughtlessly. The same tends to happen to other prayers and litanies. A suggestion for a simpler, possibly more relatable form for families could be for families to create our own Litany, including our own special attributes for Mary, for example, Mother most patient – pray for us. Mother make our family a holy family – pray for us. This could even become a family prayer. See www.marfam.org.za for special family suggestions.
There are many special groups, sodalities and movements with a special devotion to Mary and many traditions and practices too in different cultural groups, e.g. Portuguese people and the Fatima devotion around 13 May. No pilgrimages are permitted in SA this year as before, due to the coronavirus but maybe virtual pilgrimages will be organised in small communities.
“South Africa needs Our Lady” is the slogan and the website www.SouthAfricaNeedsOurLady.co.za of Family Action SA. This website has a wealth of information, many novenas and prayers and accounts of many apparitions.
Mary’s place in the Church takes many different forms. Her role is recognised in a chapter of Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council as Mother of God and of the Church, as mediatrix, intercessor and the greatest of the saints. Catholics are still unjustly accused of worshipping her. We adore and worship God but honour Mary through prayer, especially the Rosary.
Many local religious congregations, at least ten of women as I have discovered, are linked with a particular image or aspect of Mary, her life, her apparitions and her special requests to visionaries that always include prayer for peace.
Did you know? Our Muslim brothers and sisters are celebrating the month of Ramadan at this time, with prayer, fasting and acts of sacrifice. Mary is recognised in a different but special way by Muslims, and I believe that her name is in fact mentioned more often in the Quran than in the Bible.
With an even broader religious vision on 14 May Pope Francis has asked, “Since prayer is a universal value, I have accepted the proposal of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity (multifaith movement) that on this coming 14 May, believers of all religions should unite spiritually for a day of prayer, fasting, and works of charity, to implore God to help humanity overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Remember: 14 May, all believers together, believers of different traditions, to pray, fast, and perform works of charity. See www.zenit.org or www.sacbc.org.za.
MAY 15th is INTERNATIONAL DAY OF FAMILIES. The theme chosen by the UN is “Families in Development, Copenhagen and Beijing +25.” I thought the theme was Climate Action and have only discovered the correct one now. Maybe we should have picked it up and done much more work to promote the value of family as a system, a unit that develops together and needs support together too. That should have been a much stronger part of the coronavirus awareness. The aspect of relationships is core to our 2020 Family theme OUR WORLD, A FAMILY OF FAMILIES. All forms of family need to be supported and cherished.
South Africa does need Our Lady, at this time maybe more than ever, as Mother of Sorrows, Mother of Africa, Queen of the World and as Queen assumed into heaven, Patroness of South Africa, may she comfort and intercede for us. TR. FAMILY WEEKLY 13 MAY 2020