Growing to Know and Love Mary from a Worldwide Perspective
By Lisa M. Hendey
Many of us have an "image of Mary that comes immediately to mind when we offer prayers to the intercession of the Blessed Mother of Jesus. In my mind, Mary looks a lot like a younger version of many of the important women in my own life. For many, images of classic Madonnas by Rafael or sweet holy card remembrances are the face of Mary. Despite her "look", worldwide devotion to Mary remains constant.
As distant lands have come closer through the wonder of air travel and the Internet, new doors have been opened and many of us seek to learn more about the practice of Catholicism in other parts of the world. Watching the sea of humanity present at the recent events at the Vatican, I marveled at the flags and faces representing so many fellow Christians from around the globe. The universality of our faith struck me as I watched an Italian mother, a young Caucasian and an African gentleman all clutch their rosaries in the moments leading up to the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.
Thanks to a wonderful new book by Ann Ball, we can learn more about stories, devotions and images of Mary from around the world. In The Other Faces of Mary (Crossroads, December 2004, paperback, 160 pages), Ball introduces us to Mary through the eyes of our fellow Catholics in places such as Vietnam, Nigeria, India, Japan and more. Ball and the many contributors to this book share with us a beautiful gift - the wonderful pictures that accompany the stories and reflections in this book left me wanting to travel to these places and see my own Faith through fresh eyes.
I spoke recently with Ann Ball about The Other Faces of Mary.
Q: Ann Ball, author of The Other Faces of Mary and numerous other wonderful Catholic resources, thank you for your time and participation in this interview. Could you please begin by telling us a bit about yourself and your own faith journey?
A: Lisa, I am a convert. I grew up in a small town in an area which was still mission territory for the Catholics when I was a child so there was a lot of mis-information about the church. As an adult, through an unusual set of circumstances I wound up teaching at a Catholic school. My dad always had a St. Christopher medal on his keychain and I found a book in the library of that little school about St. Christopher. I read it and got hooked on reading about the saints - finished reading an entire series of children's books on the saints that year. The following year, we moved and I taught at another Catholic school. One day when I was having the children decorate a bulletin board for Our Lady, one of the sisters saw what we were doing and whispered to me, "She'll get you - just wait and see." Some years later when I announced my intention to join the church, that sister's response was simple "I told you Our Lady would get you."
Q: Ann, you've written on such a broad array of subjects. Please briefly describe this book and tell us what prompted you to take on the topic of lesser known visions of Mary.
A: The Other Faces of Mary is really a book of little known images and titles, not visions, of Our Lady. I have always been interested in other cultures, and Mary is the great "inculturator of our faith. She comes to her people as one of them, in a form they can most readily understand. Gently she draws them with her maternal love to her Divine Son. We are all familiar with the main titles of Our Lady - Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe. But there are other beautiful devotions to Mary throughout the world.
Q: When watching recent events at St. Peter's during the death of Pope John Paul II and the election and installation of Pope Benedict XVI, I was struck by the universality of our Catholic faith as evidenced by the many faces and flags represented in Rome. While the ethnicities varied, devotion to Our Lady and the Rosary seemed to be a common thread. Could you say a few words about Mary's place in our world today as a unifying force?
A: Mary represents the twin jewels of our faith: cultural diversity and universal sameness.
Q: I found the stories and images of your book to be fascinating! How did you research the book and recruit the various contributors?
A: God bless the internet! When writing my first books, my postage bill was enormous and it sometimes took months to get a response. The internet has made it vastly easier to communicate with others overseas. For some of these I appealed to friends. For example, my friend and long-time correspondent Leo Knowles (r.i.p.) traveled in England to bring the story and picture of Ladyewell. Leo was also a Catholic writer, and his essay in this book is the last he wrote. A Vietnamese Buddhist friend from Houston was going to Vietnam and looked up a Catholic friend of his there who found the informatioin on Tra Kieu for me. I knew of the three handed icon and own a lovely copy of it written by my friend Mary Talamini. Naturally I asked her to comment on why she picked that particular icon to write. The one from Japan I saw myself on a trip there and it immediately reminded me of a lovely song I remembered from the 1960s. The author of that song was gracious enough to write a comment for me. For others I appealed to dioceses and priests all over the world. Actually, the stories behind the stories are all interesting. As a researcher who loves Our Lady, this was sheer pleasure for me.
Q: Is there any one "face" of Mary that holds particular devotion for you? Which of the images in the book did you find the most compelling, surprising or interesting?
A: I have two favorites in that book. First, because I am of English extraction, I love the Vulnerata. She is a figure of reparation and her story made me weep. I work with the Basilian mission fathers and I wrote a special prayer to Our lady Vulnerata which we shared with our missionaries and co-missionaries last Christmas. My other favorite is Tra Kieu because she shows the love Our Lady has for her persecuted peoples. As far as I know, her story was previously unknown in the United States, even by our many American Vietnamese Catholics. The picture was brought by Dung's friend from the North part of Vietnam. Later I was able to be in contact with the priest from the shrine there via the internet. I also love Chapi from Peru, especially when she has her hair braided and wears a Peruvian hat like the people of her area when she goes on pilgrimage. I treasure a little statue of her sent to me by the rector of her shrine.
Q: In his introduction to your book, Bishop Gregory John Mansour speaks of Mary as a "common bond" between Muslims, Christians and Jews in today's world. Given the global uncertainties that face us in this time, I cling to my family's daily prayers to Mary for peace and reconciliation as a sign of great hope. How can Our Lady help us explore and appreciate the cultural diversity of today's world?
A: If you get to know and love Our Lady, you can't help but catch her love for all her children! I think Rev. Stephen Doyle, O.P., in his comments on Divina Pastora says it best: "Here, respect for the faith of others and an acceptance of the shared common values inherent in all genuine faith expressions has been pursued." In particular, this image in the West Indies like Our Lady of Lebanon is revered by many of other faiths.
Q: I know that you are busy at work on your next project. Can you share a preview with our readers?
A: My friend Father Damian Hinojosa, c.s.b. and I just finished the research on a book about the Holy Infant Jesus. Many people are familiar with the Infant of Prague, and my own family has always honored the Christ Child under the title of the Holy Child of the Atocha, but there are hundreds of images and devotions to the Christ Child under these titles throughout the world. We wanted to trace the historical background of devotion to Christ as a child, and to tell the stories of some of these images which are still popular today. This subject has never really been explored completely before. There is one out of print German book and a lovely book, also unavailable in the U.S., on the infants honored in the Philippines. So again, another project of pure pleasure for a researcher. And, hopefully, also a great book for readers who love the Holy Child. It will be out this fall from Crossroads. The book has the cull background on the images you may know like the Infant of Prague, and the Divino Ni"o from Colombia, and many you don't know but will fall in love with. We found a tiny baby Jesus from El Salvador which was "clothed by seashells when it fell in the ocean, a Little Blind Jesus from Mexico, the Holy Bellringer in Austria, and the image so loved by St. Therese of Lisieux along with many others.
Q: Ann Ball, author of the great treasure The Other Faces of Mary, thank you for another wonderful book and for your time. Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
A: Just my thanks to all those of you who have read what I write because that is what makes it possible for me to have the fun to continue writing. And an invitation to visit my own website at www.annball.com to see the other projects I am working on as well as find activities and stories for children as well as articles for adults.
For more information on The Other Faces of Mary visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0824522559/catholicmomcom
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.