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FAITH. Who is Blessed Virgin Mary and what is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary about? Robert Mugagga explores the significance and the place of this figure and event in Roman Catholicism.
Every year, August 15, is Assumption Day, or the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven on the Catholic Church calendar. Often shortened to “the Assumption” and also known as the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy and part of Anglicanism, Assumption was the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly life.
The day is celebrated as a nationwide public holiday in traditionally Catholic nations of Europe and all Spanish-speaking South American. In Africa, it is also marked as public holiday in countries such as DR Congo, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Madagascar, Mauritius, Togo and the Central African Republic. Rwanda phased it out recently.
While the Assumption day may not be a public holiday in Uganda, Ugandan Catholics take it seriously too and as usual most churches around town fill to capacity. Most Catholics are seen guarding themselves with rosaries in their cars, bedrooms and offices. Many others are seen wearing rosaries of different designs and colours -all for maximum protection.
Places named after Mary
In some homes, parents have for years named their daughters after the Virgin Mary with names such as Maria, Immaculate and Assumpta. Besides, many places, institutions and parishes have been dedicated to and named after mother Mary. There are schools such as St Marys College Kisubi, St Mary’s Kitende, Mount St Marys Namagunga, St Marys Aboke, and Our Lady of Good Counsel Gayaza. Without forgetting some prominent Catholic parishes around town such as the Our Lady of Fatima, Nakulabye and Our Lady of Africa Mbuya and not far away from Mbuya is where the popular Radio Maria is located.
Ugandan Catholics have been known to have too much trust in the Virgin Mary, who is also widely referred to as Mother Mary, Our Lady, Stella Maris (star of the sea) and Madonna (Italian representation of Mary either alone or with her child Jesus).
In the 90s when a gunman named Bingo kidnapped and attempted to kill the Archbishop of Kampala Emeritus, Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala at his Lubaga office, the man of God later disclosed that it’s the virgin Mary whom he adores that had saved his life. And in 2004, the now St. Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary shrine at Lourdes, France to seek courage from Mother Mary in his sickness.
Different church grottos
Over the years many Virgin Mary grotto have been put up around most churches in Uganda where Catholics are seen flocking in big numbers to present their requests. For instance at Christ The King church in the city centre there is a magnificent Virgin Mary grotto where almost at all time believers can be seen kneeling before and praying. Just a few metres away is the statue of John the Baptist (which many mistake to be that of Jesus) with hardly anyone seen praying before it.
Off Kajjansi town along Entebbe road, a whole hill has been dedicated to Mother Mary. At the highest point of Kiwamirembe (giver of peace) hill, a huge and glittering statue of the Virgin Mary has been erected . Believers flock there throughout the week for prayers and dedication to Mother Mary. Despite all this hype, non-Catholics are often heard complaining that Catholics are giving the Blessed Virgin Mary a higher status than Jesus.
Joseph Kirwana 62, a resident of Mutundwe in Lubaga division however disagree. He quotes Luke 1: 28 where Arch-angel Gabriel tells Mary, “Peace be with you. The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you.” And Luke 1: 42: “Elizabeth was filled with Holy Spirit and said in a loud voice : You are the most blessed of all women and blessed is the child you will bear”. Kirwana argues that Catholics regard the Virgin Mary in high esteem because of her role in God’s work of salvation.
urely, for the Catholic church teaches that when God the Father sent His only son as saviour of the fallen human race, He willed that the saviour’s redemptive work be supported by the Virgin Mary in essential ways.
Her role would be constantly united with that of the saviour and would be indispensable in the saviour’s bid to accomplish His mission. Thus, Christ was conceived and grew up in Mary’s womb, willingly dependent on her for love, nourishment and protection. He was born of her and grew up relying on her love, dedication and companionship.
The shrine of Fatima
Beyond the Ugandan borders, there are so many popular Virgin Mary shrines visited by millions of believers every year. One of this is the shrine of Fatima. On May 13, 1917 the Virgin Mary appeared in a little Portuguese town of Fatima to three shepherd children Lucia Dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco. She told them to pray the rosary often and devoutly for peace in the world. “Iam the lady of the Holy Rosary. I have come to ask all mankind to do penance and to ask pardon for their sins.” She told them.
The shrine of Lourdes
The grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, France is where in 1858 the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Bernadette Soubirous . She saw a lady of unspeakable beauty wearing a white dress, drawn in the waist The lady told Benardette, “ I promise to make you happy, if not in this world at least in the next. She requested her to tell the people to repent. Lourdes is visited by six million pilgrimages every year. This constant stream of pilgrims and tourists have transformed the previously quiet Lourdes into the second most important centre of tourism in France , second only to Paris and the third most important site of international Catholic pilgrimage after Rome and the Holy land.
Other popular Virgin Mary shrines in the world are found in Guadalupe-Mexico, Medjugorje- Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kibeho-Rwanda among others.