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A beautiful testimony from a pilgrim: How I rekindled my love for the Blessed Mother

I have a confession to make.  As a Roman Catholic, confession is something I try and do regularly, but it is not always easy.  In this case, my confession does not concern a sin, but it may have been just as detrimental if the Blessed Virgin Mary were not as loving and persistent with me.  The Blessed Mother’s constant love and support changed my life right before my stubborn and neglectful eyes. 


Being in my early 50s, maturity and life experiences have changed my outlook on life.  When I was a young boy, I always appreciated the Blessed Mother, but I regrettably looked at her as a distant figure, not the beautiful woman she really is.  I imagined Mother Mary as I would have viewed a faraway relative:  a part of my family but someone I did not know well, or think was important in my life at that time.  My immature view of the Blessed Mother recognized that she was the Mother of my Savior – the Mother of God.  Yet, somehow, I did not allow the Mother of our Lord to affect the younger me as profoundly as she does now.  Previously, I would encounter Mother Mary at my childhood parish’s May Crowning celebrations, its October rosary events, and of course its Christmas celebrations.  But somehow the Blessed Mother was not as important as the “Big Three” who deserved my attention:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  After all, I prayed frequently to God and Jesus, would always understand that the Holy Spirit was implicitly included, and sometimes I would pray to a Saint or two for intercession.  Unfortunately for me, at that time, I neglected the only other human being who was born without sin (the Immaculate Conception).  Thankfully, the “Queen of Peace” was at peace with my immaturity and gave me time to grow. 


In 1998, when I was in my 20s, I first visited Lourdes, France.  Then, in 2013, when I was in my early 40s, I visited the Holy Land, including the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Church of the Dormition of Our Lady, and other sites.  While these places were amazing and special, they did not deeply touch me regarding my relationship with Our Lady.  My feelings during these visits to the Blessed Mother’s sites would be more akin to the feelings I would have when I visited the Roman Coliseum combined with having watched a beautiful sunset at the seashore – moving, but not spiritually impactful regarding the Blessed Mother.  Somehow, I was not ready.  Nevertheless, the “Gentle Woman” was patient yet unrelenting in wanting a deeper relationship with me.  She kept calling me.


After I went through a difficult divorce in my late 40s, I was emotionally dejected.  Fortunately, this was when the Blessed Mother came to console me and call me to her more directly.  My family and friends provided plenty of support, but I finally turned to the patient, kind, and ever-loving Mother of Mercy.  I prayed to her with more focus.  Like any wonderful earthly mother, the Immaculata welcomed me with open arms and loved me even more.  She called me to encounter her with greater depth.


In 2018, amid some hardships, I had to perform military duties at a base outside Tokyo, Japan.   In discussions with the base military chaplain, the priest recommended I go to a town called Akita, in Northern Japan for an overnight “retreat”.  I planned a visit with the only English-speaking nun, Sister Clara Akiho of the order called the “Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist,” or “Seitai Hoshikai” in Japanese.  Sister Clara was welcoming but made a deal with me:  If I came and worked at the shrine for the day, I could stay there overnight and pray with the nuns.  Of course, I agreed but I did not know of Akita’s importance until I arrived. 


At the shrine, I learned of the 1973 Marian Apparition of Akita.  Here, a wooden statue of the Blessed Mother miraculously shed tears and drops of blood, and spoke to a deaf nun.  In her message, the Blessed Mother stressed the importance of the Holy Eucharist, our need for repentance and prayer (especially the rosary), and the love she and her son have for all of us – including me.  Even though I left with the parting gift of poison ivy from the weed whacking work I did at the shrine, I also left with wonderful feelings of peace and joy.


After that pilgrimage, I searched (or should I say the Peaceful Dove encouraged me to search) for more ways to encounter her.  In May of 2021, I was able to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Mexico City, Mexico.  There, I was able to see the Miraculous Image of Our Lady’s appearance on Saint Juan Diego’s cactus fiber cloak, or tilma, which still exists today for all to see.  I learned that the image of Our Lady cannot be explained by science.  Our Lady’s image on the tilma shows no sign of deterioration even after 450 years.  There is no under sketch, no sizing, and no protective over-varnish on the image; there are no brush strokes.  Most impressive, is that the stars on Our Lady's Mantle coincide with the constellation in the sky on December 12, 1531, the date of her appearance to Saint Juan Diego.  Our Lady of Guadeloupe is the patroness of the Americas and the conversion of Central and South America are attributed to her intercession.


Several months later, in September of 2021, I traveled to Ireland with my father.  The trip was one he has wanted to go for over 20 years to our ancestral homeland.  Of course, we had to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in County Mayo.  The Rector of the shrine let me serve Holy Mass as an acolyte.  It was a moving experience to be there on the alter and share that special experience with my dad.  The Apparition of Our Lady of Knock happened in August of 1879 where Our Lady appeared with St. Joseph (the “Terror of Demons”) and Saint John the Evangelist.  This Apparition contained a Eucharistic Lamb in front of a Cross standing upon an altar and surrounded by angels.  This experience allowed me to see that Our Lady kept calling me and showing her love.


My most recent pilgrimage to a Marian Apparition site was to Fatima, Portugal, in July 2022.  This happened almost by accident, yet I’ve learned that nothing is by accident when the Blessed Mother is leading me to her.  I planned to visit Oberammergau, Germany, to see the once-a-decade Passion Play with a friend of mine.   As I was making flight arrangements to Germany, the airline we selected allowed a stopover in Lisbon, Portugal, at no additional charge.  We added Lisbon to our itinerary and since Fatima is about an hour and-a-half north of Lisbon, it was an obvious choice to include.  The Shrine of Fatima has always been special to many Catholics, and it seemed the Blessed Mother wanted my friend and me to visit here.  I learned about the Marian Apparition there in August 1917 and how the Shrine of our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima is the answer to the call of Our Lady of the Rosary and how important prayer, repentance, and charity is to a life of faith.  It was after this visit that I began to pray the rosary almost daily and to honor the Blessed Mother with more devotion.


Later this year, the Blessed Mother is calling me to visit Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I have read that this unofficial Apparition has been known to heal and infuse great energy into one’s faith. 


In developing my relationship with the Blessed Mother, I have come to learn that she is a steadfast companion and aide in my faith development.  I remember listening with my own mother to Chuck Girard’s 1975 song “Lay Your Burden Down.”  In that song, Mr. Girard sings a beautiful line where he encourages us to “take your worries to the foot of the Cross and lay your burden down.”  That is where Mother Mary is ready to love us and help us, just as she did and continues to do for all humanity.  If only we come to the same conclusion in faith as she:  “Fiat!” or yes to God.  If we follow God’s will in our own lives, it will lead us to true happiness and help us overcome the burdens of life in this valley of tears.  Ave Marina, gratia plena!  Most gracious advocate, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

"CJH from South Carolina"

January, 2024

I thank you for sharing your beautiful testimony of the love of our dear Gospa!

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