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Bacolod City, PhilippinesSaturday, December 8, 2012
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with Juan L. Mercado

A bridge for all

Juan L. Mercado

Every December 8, Filipinos and Catholics elsewhere honor Mary under the title of “Immaculate Conception.” However, many raise eyebrows when gently reminded that Mary’s genealogy and childhood, in the Muslim Koran, “is more detailed than in the four Gospels”.

The Koran, in fact, mentions Mary 54 times, notes the Vatican’s official newspaper “L'Osservatore Romano” ( 13 April 1978, page 4 ) An entire chapter or "Sura 19" focuses on a woman that Christians call “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”

Miriam of Nazareth lived by the Jewish faith. “In the Koran, Christ is called repeatedly “Issa ibn Maryam—"Jesus son of Mary", writes Giancarlo Finazzo in the Vatican paper…”( This) name… perhaps is the best known one in the Islamic world.”

"Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry,” says a Hadith attributed to the Prophet Mohamed and verses 35-37 of Sura III,.. The only exceptions are Mary and her Son.

“After this premise it is not surprising that… the Immaculate Conception, is univocally recognized,” the article adds. The extraordinary person of Mary and her pure life (III, 42 to LXVI, 12). “set her, with her Son, above every other created being.”

Indeed, “Islamic tradition holds that Jesus and his mother are the only two human souls who were not tainted by sin at birth,” the Economist magazine notes.

New appreciation of Mary stems from the very arena in which Protestants historically pride themselves most: careful and full reading of Scriptures, Time magazine notes in its cover story "Hail Mary"

Mary stood by the Cross. And she figures in "a skein of appearances longer and more strategically placed than any other character in scriptures", Princeton University professor of New Testament literature, Beverly Gaventa, points out.

"She is present in all key situations: at Jesus birth, at his death and in the Upper Room," Gaventa writes in "Personalities of the New Testament". Whether in Egypt , Nazareth or Cana , "there isn't a figure comparable to her". The new thinkers are exploring the implications of Mary's excruciating presence at the crucifixion. "(She) witnesses almost single handedly Christianity through its darkest moment."

Is this a case of over-reach?

"Catholics would tell you, rather firmly, that Mary is not a goddess," the “Economist” notes in its cover story titled: “A Mary For All” ( pp 25 --.29 ) "She is not worshiped, but rather venerated: a human being with a unique role in praying for and protecting the human race.".

She is Islam's most honored woman, the magazine points out. . Muslim and eastern Christians "cherish the story of Mary's childhood in a place of supreme holiness. Both name Mary's guardian as the priest Zechariah or Zakariya." The wisdom texts speak of a "woman clothed with the sun".

“Christianity inherited and built on the Jewish belief that it is possible for the human being to have a direct encounter with God, and in some sense to become part of divine reality, writes. Methodist Hebrew scholar Margaret Barker.

“Christians and Muslim will never agree on the nature of Mary’s child, “the Economist adds…Yet, they “alike see in Mary an affirmation that there is no limit to proximity of God that any human can attain…Surely, that is reason enough, for people of any faith, to feel reverence for history's foremost Jewish mother."

"Shortly after Vatican II, a period of Marian silence descended," recalls Catalino Arevalo, SJ, of Ateneo University . "We, in the Philippines , did not go through that phase."

"Churches in former communist Eastern Europe have not experienced the 'eclipse of Mary' either," notes this Filipino theologian. "What strikes a mainland China visitor, who gets in contact with Catholics there, is that veneration of Mary has never been stronger."

Once known as "Christendom", Europe built the Continent's loveliest cathedrals from Chartres to Notre Dame. Now, Europe suffers from a "vacuum of faith", Los Angeles Times notes. The Gallup Millennium Survey reveals barely 20 percent of West Europeans attend church services once a week.

Are the new Marian shrines – Medjugorje in Yugoslavia ; Akita in Japan; Kibeho in Rwanda and Cuenca in Ecuador. – signaling a comeback of Our Lady, which the late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner foresaw?

Then, there was Blessed John Paul II Some claim “no pontiff in the entire history of Catholicism has had so strong and articulates a devotion to Mary.”

In today’s charged atmosphere of tension between Muslims and non-Muslims, isn’t it prudent, let alone essential, to attempt to find common ground between these clashing Abrahamic traditions?, asks Heather Abraham who wrote the book: “The Muslim Jesus ( 2001),

Mary’s shared importance offers an opportunity for interfaith dialogue. Easing of tension is an enormous undertaking because religious differences are often used to justify anger and distrust.

“Maybe, just maybe, religious similarities may lessen the divide”. Is Mary that bridge? “The question of the day is: Why are the media ( Western and Eastern) and religious clerics (Christian and Muslim) not focusing on the commonalities and unifying aspects of Abrahamic cousins?"*

( Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com )

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