An Encounter in Africa
I was six months into my Peace Corps service and I arrived in a new city on the coast of The Gambia. I was not feeling well and had a large amount of homesickness plaguing my heart. Along with the illnesses, I was in a Muslim country and there were few Catholic Churches around, but thankfully, my new town had one on its outskirts. However, the problem was that there was not always a priest available. Now, the parish had a 4-foot wall all around it with one main access point for the people to enter through. As you walked in through the gate, there was a shrine to Our Lady, just to the right of the entrance. Before, people greeted anyone, each person went over to greet and say hello to the Virgin Mary. In the Gambian culture to greet someone was of the utmost importance, to not do so is to offend not just one person, but her or his entire family. Knowing this custom and seeing the behavior of the local Gambian people, my mind was amazed at the honor Mary was given in their culture.
An Unknown Mother
Before one Sunday communion service, my heart was saddened greatly, and I longed for home and a sense of the familiar. As I walked through the entrance gate, I went over and greeted Mary, and as a I turned there was a little old lady standing next to me and at that moment she turned to face me. She had deep eyes that could pierce a soul coupled with a large gentle smile. She stuck out her hands and embraced me through a hug. As I bent down to fully embrace her in return and she whispered to me, “It is ok, you are home now.” To say I wept would have been an understatement. After the embrace and her words, she grabbed my hand and lead me into the church.
Mary, Our Mother
I am sad to admit this, but until that moment I never knew how important a mother was to a person’s life, let alone my own. I knew that woman, saw me as a son in need, and she was there for me. It is by and through this experience that I formed a relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through this embrace in Africa that I now understand the power behind the words of St. Therese “It is true that Our Lady is Queen of Heaven and earth, but at the same time she is more Mother than Queen.” Christ gave us His mother! A mother always strives to strengthen and keep her family together. As a Carmelite, I am given the grace to wear her brown scapular every day. The scapular is a sign of her motherly presence and motherly touch. The strands of the scapular that wrap around the neck are the arms by which Mary always embraces a Carmelite, to help them remain open to her Son, who was also held in her very arms as a child.
Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Carmel, Pray for Us.