Latin America

Marian devotion in the United States, strength for the family

Since the Virgin Mary appeared in Wisconsin in 1959 to young Adele Brise and asked her to teach the faith to children, devotion to Our Lady has spread throughout the United States. The challenge is to sustain the faith of young people and strengthen families.

Juan Velez-December 5, 2017-Reading time: 5 minutes
Procession of Our Lady of Good Help, Green Bay.

Love and devotion to the Virgin Mary is an integral part of our Christian faith. This story is an attempt to give an overview of Marian devotion in the United States (U.S.). Two years ago, a priest friend of mine told me that he was going on a pilgrimage on foot to a Marian shrine. I thought he was talking about Mexico, and he surprised me by telling me that he and twenty people from his parish were walking 200 miles to the small town of Champion, Wisconsin, in the northern United States, near the city of Green Bay. In that region of the country, settled by emigrants from Belgium, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a young girl, Adele Brise, in October 1859. 

At the time, the vast region in northwestern Wisconsin was sparsely populated by farmers, who had only an itinerant priest to minister to them and teach them. Our Lady's message was very simple: to teach the faith to the children. The beautiful Lady appeared to the young girl and said to her: "I am the Queen of Heaven... Gather the children in this savage country and teach them what they must know for their salvation... EnsTeach them to use the catechism, how to make the sign of the cross and how to approach the sacraments. That is what I want you to do. Go and do not be afraid. I will help you. Adele began catechizing children, going from house to house along the Green Bay peninsula. Eventually, she founded a religious community dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help, and founded a school that has contributed to the Christian formation of children and families in the area. 

In 2010, David Ricken, Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, gave official Church recognition to these apparitions of Our Lady. Today, many people go to this shrine, the only one in the U.S. where Our Lady has appeared, to honor her and ask for her help.

The Catholic faith is Christocentric. The close relationship between Jesus and his Mother, and the efficacy of devotion to her, is verified day by day by Eucharistic adoration of her Son. Chapels with Eucharistic adoration have increased in the USA. Most cities, especially those of medium size or larger, have several parishes with perpetual adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In these chapels, the prayer and meditation of the rosary is a central part.

Marriage and the family

St. John Paul II repeated many times that man is the way of the Church. And it is necessary to know Christ in order to know man, made in the image and likeness of God the Son. Later, the Pope taught that the family is the way of the Church. It is in the family that faith is born and love is lived. The family is the domestic church.

Today more than ever, marriage and family are under attack in American society. Although this happens in many countries, the consequences are strongly felt here. This is largely due to a lack of faith and Christian living that leads to selfishness, lack of respect and mutual trust. The crisis of the family reminds us of the urgent need for God in personal life and in society. This renewal passes through the Holy Family. The relationship with Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the marvelous example of love, dedication, respect and work in the home.

Young people

In the past, the Legion of Mary has been well received in the USA, but today this fine organization, which worships our Heavenly Mother, is in need of young members. It is necessary to look for new methods to enthuse the youth and awaken their ideals.

A recent survey indicates that until a few years ago young people in the United States abandoned the faith as early as 18 years of age, and now this happens soon after the age of 13. There is an urgent need to train youth to mature and keep their faith alive in the face of the bad example they receive from friends in the school environment, and from those in the media who promote destructive materialism and hedonism. 

Fr. Ezequiel Sanchez, director of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Chicago, told me about his experience. This year, a sodality for mothers and daughters has been formed at the shrine under the name of Daughters of Mary. There the young women are treated with their families, and there are some activities for the daughters and others for the mothers. The confraternity consists of 28 young women, ages 13 to 18, and their mothers. Fr. Sanchez comments that in this work of youth formation it is necessary to take into account the needs of the young people and the cultural differences between immigrant youth and those from the United States. The former are social and the latter are quiet. In this shrine there is also a large catechesis for children. At present, some 500 children attend with their parents, and they are insisted on the need to live their faith coherently so that their children will learn it.

The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is visited by about one million people every year. This encounter with God through Our Lady leads to many desires for conversion and formation. As in the parishes, couples are prepared for sacramental marriage, and others in situations where there are impediments to validating their marriage. It is, however, a matter of healing the wounds of families. Many times we think of getting people out of sin, but here we go beyond that and help them to heal.

Louisiana, California...

Popular piety is an element of Christian life, which requires doctrine and sacramental life, and in which the practice of the virtues is indispensable. For the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, in Louisiana there is a "procession" The event, which celebrates the arrival of French Catholics in Louisiana, consists of taking the Virgin in a boat surrounded by other boats to the port of St. Martinville. The event, which celebrates the arrival of French Catholics in Louisiana, consists of carrying the Virgin in a boat surrounded by other boats to the port of St. Martinville. It begins with mass in French, and continues with stops at various ports where the rosary is recited and Eucharistic adoration takes place. Many of the faithful participate, and this year the bishop of the area presided.

In the middle of the last century, Fr. Patrick Peyton promoted the family rosary from California. His motto was simple: the family that prays the rosary remains united. He organized rosary gatherings all over the world, called Family Rosary Crusade. Today, the name has changed to Rosary Rallies. I remember a rally that took place in 2009, in a soccer stadium in Los Angeles. The rally consisted of praying the rosary with meditations on each mystery, musical numbers and testimonies of several people such as the actor and film producer Eduardo Verástegui, or a young survivor of the massacres in Rwanda, Immaculée Ilibagiza.

The rosary, very widespread

Today, thanks to radio and television, the rosary is heard and the life of Our Lady is meditated on in every part of the United States. On television, EWTN extends the Mass and the rosary to millions of people. Relevant Radio broadcasts programs to an audience of 130 million in many cities across the country, and many smaller radio stations promote this devotion to Our Lady.

In conclusion, to speak of the Virgin Mary is to speak of the Catholic faith and the Redemption. It is about Christian doctrine and popular piety. The love of the faithful for the Virgin Mary leads to a greater encounter with Jesus and his Church, which is manifested in conversions of individuals and families, the discovery of different vocational paths and strong support for pro-family and pro-life movements.

From what has been said here it can be deduced that Marian devotion in the United States has a very diverse origin, which brings with it the challenge of fostering Catholic unity while respecting one's own customs and devotions. There are other challenges in the practice of Marian devotion; among them is translating that piety into fruits for Christian life in the family, the workplace and society in general.  

However, these challenges in no way diminish the vital importance of past and present Marian worship in the United States that we have sought to highlight here. We must finally add that the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, as well as the Marian piety of the Popes, have fostered devotion to the Virgin Mary in this country and have given rise to a strong evangelizing impulse.

The authorJuan Velez

Chicago (United States)

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