Mary: Mother ... and savior?
>Jan Jarboe Russell
>New York Times News Service
>Saturday, January 6, 2001
>"The world of today is in desperate need of a mother," whispered Prof. Mark
>Miravalle as he sat behind his desk at Franciscan University in
>Steubenville, Ohio, carefully fingering a string of rosary beads.
>Half a world away, inside the Vatican, yet another enormous box arrived
>filled with petitions asking Pope John Paul II to exercise his absolute
>power to proclaim a new and highly debated dogma: that the Virgin Mary is a
>co-redeemer with Jesus and cooperates fully with her son in the redemption
>of mankind.
>Miravalle, 41, began the petition drive four years ago from his obscure
>position as a professor of Mariology -- the study of Mary -- at one of the
>most conservative Catholic universities in the nation. Since then the pope
>has received more than 6 million signatures from 148 countries asking him
>to give the Virgin Mary the ultimate promotion.
>In addition to ordinary Catholics, Miravalle has received support from 550
>bishops and 42 cardinals, as well as from Cardinal John O'Connor and Mother
>Teresa. Along the way, his movement has laid bare a deep-seated conflict
>between wildly popular devotion to the Virgin Mary and the efforts of the
>established church to keep that devotion in check.
>If Miravalle's campaign succeeds and John Paul proclaims the Virgin Mary as
>a co-redeemer, she would be a vastly more powerful figure, something close
>to a fourth member of the Holy Trinity and the primary female face through
>which Christians experience the divine. Specifically, Roman Catholics would
>be required to accept three new spiritual truths: that Mary is
>co-redemptrix and participates in people's redemption, that Mary is
>mediatrix and has the power to grant all graces and that Mary is "the
>advocate for the people of God," in Miravalle's words, and has the
>authority to influence God's judgments.
>For the millions of Virgin Mary devotees who have signed Miravalle's
>petitions, these are an accepted part of their daily spiritual lives. They
>represent what theologians call popular piety, practices that are widely
>accepted by ordinary religious people over the learned objections of the
>establishment. Indeed the idea has been present in Catholicism at least as
>far back as the 14th century. There is also historic precedent for petition
>campaigns like Miravalle's. Two other Marian dogmas -- the dogma of the
>Assumption in 1950, which declared that Mary was taken up, body and soul,
>to heaven after her death, and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of
>1854, which established that Mary was preserved from original sin -- were
>both preceded by floods of petitions. Yet within the Vatican, the dogma
>that Miravalle advocates has touched off a private holy war.
>Although it has the support of at least 12 cardinals in Rome, others fear
>that its acceptance would cause a major schism among Catholics and set back
>all efforts at ecumenism. Because the dogma would be an infallible
>proclamation by the pope, it would trigger a renewed debate over the role
>of the pope's power in modern society.
>"It seems to put her on an equal footing with Christ," said the Rev. John
>Roten, director of the International Marian Library in Dayton, articulating
>the primary reason for opposition. "That just won't do." The Rev. Rene
>Laurentin, a French monk and a leading Mary scholar, agrees. In a fax,
>Laurentin said that the proposed dogma would be the equivalent of launching
>"bombs" at the Protestants and would deepen the breach between the Vatican
>and the Eastern Orthodox church. "Mary is the model of our faith, but she
>is not divine," he said. "There is no mediation or co-redemption except in
>Christ. He alone is God."
>'Totus tuus'
>Pope John Paul has made no secret of his devotion to Mary. He has the
>phrase "totus tuus" (which in Latin means "totally hers") as his papal
>motto and credits the Virgin Mary with saving his life during a 1981
>assassination attempt and for the fall of communism. He has used the phrase
>"co-redemptrix" six times in his papacy to describe Mary, which has led
>Miravalle and his petitioners to hope that during his lifetime the pope
>will proclaim her co-redeemer.
>Miravalle has visited privately with the pope several times, but he would
>not say what happened during his meetings. "All I can tell you," Miravalle
>said fervently, "is that I am personally confident that the holy father
>will make this solemn definition of the mother of Jesus at the most
>appropriate time. It's not a question of if. It's only a question of when."
>Responding by e-mail in Italian, Joquain Navarro-Valls, spokesman for the
>Vatican, said "There is no proclamation of a new dogma on the Madonna under
>study either by the holy father or by the International Theological
>Commission," repeating a statement that the Vatican made in 1997.
>Miravalle's argument is that the Virgin Mary literally gave Jesus the body
>that he in turn gave for humankind, that she was present at the important
>moments in his ministry and that she suffered with him during his death on
>the cross. "As a mother, she shared in the birth, suffering and death of
>her son," he said. "That makes her suffering not only valuable but
>But does that make her equal to Jesus Christ? Miravalle insists that the
>answer is no. He claims the use of the Latin prefix "co" in co-redeemer
>means "with," not "equal to." "We do not want to place Mary on a level of
>equality with her son," he said.
>"He alone paid the price of our sins, but what we are saying is that Mary
>offered something that no one else could offer -- the bone of her bone, the
>flesh of her flesh -- and that cooperation was so great it amounted to a
>collaboration of our redemption."
>In 1997, 23 of the world's leading Mary scholars, Catholic and Protestant,
>met in Poland and voted unanimously against the proposed dogma. The concern
>that the dogma would be construed as making Mary equal to Jesus was an
>underlying reason for the opposition. "The titles are ambiguous and could
>be understood in very different ways," said the panel of experts in a brief
>report that added that the idea would worsen "ecumenical difficulties."
>Leaders of other denominations oppose it for other reasons as well. It
>gives the Virgin Mary a lot more power than most religious authorities are
>willing to give, and it is a reminder that to Catholics the pope is
>Heretical view
>The Rev. Paige Patterson, president of the conservative Southern Baptist
>Convention, the largest denomination of Protestants in the United States,
>is horrified at the mere suggestion that Mary might be a co-redeemer. "Such
>a view is clearly heretical," he said. "In order to be a redeemer, it would
>require a person to be perfect. It would require a person to be God. We
>certainly don't believe she was God."
>Some liberal Protestants have long argued that the Catholic Church has used
>the symbol of the Virgin Mary to restrict women's possibilities by keeping
>women obedient to the teachings of the church. Retired Bishop John Spong,
>one of the most controversial figures in the Episcopal Church, says that
>Christians need a feminine symbol for God, but said such a symbol needed to
>be created by women, not "a bunch of men sitting around in Rome in their
>Miravalle said he was unfazed by the objections from both ends of the
>spectrum. In some ways, the idea of the mother as hero and savior has been
>the defining theme of his life. He was born in San Francisco in 1959 to
>parents who were lifelong Catholics, but who later divorced because his
>father was a gambler and alcoholic. His mother, Nora, worked as a secretary
>to support him and his two siblings. The year that his father left, his
>elder sister died of leukemia.
>"There was never enough money, and yet mother just affirmed us so much,"
>Miravalle said. "If we needed shoes, she always found a way to cough up the
>He was a pietistic boy. When his sister died, he reasoned that she was
>"taken by God" and that it was somehow for the best. He attended Catholic
>schools, made good grades and took pleasure in studying the lives of the
>He remembers times when his mother's migraine headaches were so
>debilitating that she would have to pull off the side of freeways so that
>she could vomit and then sleep for a while until she felt well enough to
>drive. Despite her infirmity, he said: "I always felt very protected by my
>mother's love. She was my first hero."
>He, in turn, became a man worthy of his mother's sacrifices. In high
>school, he was one of the few boys in his class who always went to weekly
>mass. He went to a Jesuit-run college and majored in theology. He agonized
>over whether he was meant for life as a priest.
>One day in 1980 he went to church to pray for guidance about a career. As
>he was leaving, he literally ran into a pretty, dark-haired woman named
>Beth, who was on her way into church. They stopped to talk, and before they
>parted, Miraville asked her for a date. "I took that as a clear,
>extraordinary sign that I was not meant to be a priest," he said.
>The two married in 1981, and Miravalle continued his theological studies in
>Rome. In 1984, shortly after the birth of their first son, they went on a
>pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a small mountain village in Bosnia, which has
>been revered by Catholics since 1981 as the site where the Virgin Mary
>appears each evening at 6:40 to a small group of visionaries. To date, an
>estimated 25 million people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have visited
>the village.
>Messages from Mary
>Miravalle's visit was the beginning of his emergence as a leader in the
>popular Marian movement. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the messages
>that the Virgin Mary gave the Bosnian children who first saw her. She
>reportedly told the children that she opposes abortion, birth control,
>female priests and communism. To Miravalle, the three cornerstones of her
>messages are prayer, penance and fasting.
>Since 1984 Miravalle has published five books on Mary. At the back of each,
>he placed postcards that readers could cut out and send along to the pope,
>supporting the proposed dogma. Now the postcards and petitions average
>about 10,000 a month. He also puts out an international monthly news
>bulletin, sponsors conferences on the subject and regularly appears on
>Mother Angelica's television program, which reaches more than 55 million
>Whether or not his campaign is successful and the pope decides to declare
>Mary a co-redemptrix, the popular devotion to Mary as a healer, comforter
>and female symbol for the divine will undoubtedly continue. The world, it
>seems, will always need its mother.
> Copyright 2001 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
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