From the Cardinal: Mary: The First Missionary Disciple | May 3, 2024

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Vol. 5. No. 16 

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

During the month of May, we pay special reverence to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and the first Missionary Disciple of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Mary shows us by her words and example how we should love and serve others, our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Mary’sresponse when confronted with any difficulty, great or small, was to trust in God’s Providence. In spite of her fundamental orientation to contemplative prayer (“treasuring these things in her heart”), Mary is never indifferent or uncaring. In fact, frequently, her response is to act without hesitation, trusting that the Holy Spirit will be responsible for ensuring that the outcome will conform to God’s will.

Mary’s contribution to evangelization and the Church’s missionary outreach can be illustrated in a story from my days of service to my Redemptorist community. One of my most important responsibilities as a religious superior was to visit my brother Redemptorists in countries located throughout various parts of the world. On one such visit, I traveled to Zahle, a small city in a very fertile valley in eastern Lebanon., Christian families had once farmed there, but the terrible bloodshed of a civil war in the 1980s led them to retreat behind the walls of Zahle, leaving the fields to their Muslim neighbors.

My community had a presence there—Christ the Redeemer Center for Reconciliation, the first Christian center outside the safety of the city. When I arrived, my brothers asked if I would meet with an Imam, the religious leader of the local Muslim community. Someone had been machine-gunning a Cross that stood outside the center, leading my brothers and the members of the local Christian community to fear for their safety. 

I agreed to meet with the Imam to see if he would intervene on behalf of the center, and a meeting was arranged. The local Imam was a solemn young cleric who spoke Arabic. I talked with him in my schoolboy French and a translator present helped us have a conversation. 

The Imam’s first words were the credal formula of the Islamic faith: “There is no God but God, and Muhammed is his Prophet.” I replied with the customary response: “Peace be upon him.” The Imam then said, “But I will speak with you because of Miriam (the Virgin Mary).” 

Some years before, he explained, he was on his way to visit a family that frequented his mosque who were having a serious problem.  As he was driving out to this family’s home, he was quite perplexed about what he should say or do to help this family. To distract himself, he turned on the radio. The radio was tuned to a Christian station, and the date was August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption. When he heard the name “Miriam,” which is mentioned more often in the Holy Quran than in the Bible, he decided to ask her to help him. He turned off the radio and prayed to Miriam. By the time he reached the family’s home, he knew what the solution was and what he should say. The Imam told me that this experience touched him so deeply that he named his youngest daughter Miriam. 

The Imam listened attentively to the concerns of the Christian people, and he promised to help. I later shared this story with a young Shiite woman from Lebanon whom I met in Rome. She recognized this young cleric as someone who was very influential. She was amazed at my experience, and she said to me: “If this Imam says you are his friend, your Redemptorist brothers are safe.”

Mary’s influence is powerful. Wherever she is honored as a woman of strength and compassion, people gather around her, seeking her protection and care. 

My Redemptorist community has seen first-hand Mary’s influence as an instrument for evangelization throughout Asia. In Manila, for example, more than 120,000 people gather in our church every Wednesday to participate in the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Most parishes in the Philippines have this novena to Our Lady, and her image can be seen on taxicabs, buses, and other places. 

In my travels for the Redemptorist community, I saw similar crowds (50,000 people in Mumbai and similar crowds in other cities), but the most intriguing experience I had was in Singapore. There, “only” 30,000 people came on Saturday to Our Lady’s shrine, but half of them were not Christians. When I asked some of these people from many different faiths, “Why are you here?” they looked at me incredulously and said, “We have to speak with the Merciful Lady.” 

The Archbishop of Singapore told me that, in his experience, every adult catechumen in his archdiocese, without exception, began his or her journey to the Christian faith through this novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help— illustrating the truth of the old spiritual adage that as missionary disciples we find our way to Jesus through Mary.

Mary’s outreach inspires all missionaries. Her song, the Magnificat, makes it clear that God does wondrous things—lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry, and dismissing those who believe themselves to be self-sufficient and refuse to use their wealth and power for the benefit of their more vulnerable brothers and sisters. 

As we continue our joyful celebration of this Easter season and prepare for Pentecost Sunday on May 19, let’s remember to honor Mary, the first Missionary Disciple of Jesus and the model for all that we do as members of His Church.

Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer, 

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. 
Archbishop of Newark  

A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope  

(A selection from the homily given by Pope Francis on the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, January 1, 2024.)

The Church needs Mary in order to recover her own feminine face, to resemble more fully the woman, Virgin and Mother, who is her model and perfect image (cf. Lumen Gentium, 63), to make space for women and to be “generative” through a pastoral ministry marked by concern and care, patience and maternal courage.  The world, too, needs to look to mothers and women in order to find peace, to emerge from the spiral of violence and hatred, and once more to see things with genuinely human eyes and hearts.  Every society needs to accept the gift that is woman, every woman: to respect, defend and esteem women, in the knowledge that whosoever harms a single woman profanes God, who was “born of a woman.”

Just as Mary, the woman, played a decisive role in the fullness of time, she is also decisive in the lives of each of us, for no one knows better than a Mother the stages of growth and the urgent needs of her children.  Mary shows us this in yet another “beginning”: the first sign that Jesus performs at the wedding feast of Cana.  There, she is the one who realizes that the wine has run out and who appeals to Jesus (cf. Jn 2:3).  The needs of her children move her, the Mother, to beg Jesus to intervene.  At Cana, Jesus says: “‘Fill the jars with water.’  And they filled them up to the brim” (Jn 2:7).  

Mary knows our needs; she intercedes to make grace overflow in our lives and to guide them to authentic fulfillment.  Brothers and sisters, all of us have our shortcomings, our times of loneliness, our inner emptiness that cries out to be filled.  Each of us knows this well.  Who can fill our emptiness if not Mary, the Mother of fullness?  Whenever we are tempted to retreat into ourselves, let us run to her; whenever we are no longer able to untie the knots in our lives, let us seek refuge in her.  

Our times, bereft of peace, need a Mother who can reunite the human family.  Let us look to Mary in order to become artisans of unity.  Let us do so with her maternal creativity and concern for her children.  For she unites them and consoles them; she listens to their troubles, and she dries their tears.  And let us look upon that tender icon of the Virgo lactans [of Montevergine Abbey].  That is how our mother is with us: how tenderly she looks after us and draws close to us.  She cares for us and remains close to us.

My Prayer for You  

As we prepare for the celebration of Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 12, please join me in praying this Blessing for Mothers published on the website for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:

A Blessing for Mothers

Almighty God has brought you
the joy of motherhood:
May he now bless you.

Through the mercy of God
and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
may you and your children one day
come to share in the unending joys of heaven.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.