All Catholic Filipinos have a devotion to “Mama  Mary”. It’s a cultural thing.

Americans tend to be individualistic in their approch to religion, so tend to parse Bible verses.  But the Philippines, until recently, was still a country of peasants, where religion was taught to children by stories and fiestas.

So Jesus was “Kuya Jesus”, older brother Jesus, and God was the Lord, but usually what was closest to the hearts of the Filipino is the humanity of Jesus. When we suffer, we identify with His sufferings. And since the mother is the center of the Filipino family, everyone sees Mary as a mother, not only to Jesus but to the rest of suffering humanity.

The middle class here in the Philippines are inspired by the legalistic arguments of Protestant proselytizers, are now busy bandying Bible verses to confuse Catholics, and the outside Catholic missionaries are busy trying to convert the educated Catholics into the school of ecology and socialism,(For example, last year the bishops opposed giving the poor donated American food because it might contain GM food. Better to have people hungry than eat food that’s not politically correct, never mind that Americans eat all the time).

So into this religious hodgepodge come comes an announcement that the bishops are again allowing Catholics to visit the Shrine where a young girl seeking to be a nun said she saw the virgin appear back in the late 1940’s. Although the bishop was tolerant of the episode, “wiser heads” from the outside essentially shut it down, removing the bishop and ordering the nuns to destroy all the evidence of anything supernatural occuring. At the same time, no investigation was done of alleged cures, which were all brushed off as ordinary cures of hysteria or placebo effect.

I first heard about the vision, not from family, but from a Spanish exchange student who stayed with our family while we were living in the US. His uncle, a big shot Jesuit, had talked about how advisors from the Vatican shut down what they saw as a pious fraud at worst or an overactive imagination at best. His uncle didn’t decide this on evidence, of course. He was the type of theologian who didn’t believe in visions or miracles, period, so if a miracle occured  in front of his nose, he would simply not believe it, evidence or not.

But now, fifty years later, local people still believe that Mama Mary had appeared there. Logically the episode should have been forgotten, but when people continue to remember and visit even after 50 years have passed, and when these visits strengthen their faith, the bishops figure that maybe the finger of God is there, so the bishops have agreed to allow such visits,  and if the  modern theologians from Europe who dislike miracles and visions don’t like it, well, too bad.

Mama Mary one, Modern Theologians zero.

Is the “vision” true or not? I have no idea. Visions are interesting things: Thousands occur, and most of them are merely the way that some people have of integrating the subconscious into their lives. And if a tiny minority of them are actually the result of a higher power (either heavenly, or diabolic), well, as a physician all I can do is use the old proverb: by their fruits you will know them.

I find it interesting that the article in the Philippine Inquirer mentions those “silenced” took their punishment with  obedience. This actually suggests that something truly spiritual might have gone on, since usually “fake” visionaries and miracle workers are so full of egotism that they disobey those in authority in order to continue doing their own thing.

But with all the pseudo intellectual discussions of religion in the western media (the latest being that “evolution” made us develop a “god gene”) one should recognize that something or other (maybe even the God of the Christians) does tend to arrange such episodes now and then to wake up people to the fact that someone up there is still around. And for Catholics, it usually means he sends his mother.

Most of these episodes come and go and disappear, but a quick look at history of the “numinous” shows that enough of them warned correctly of problems that not all such episodes can be dismissed as fodder for the ArtBell types.
I remember a report about visions in a remote African country where one visionary saw “rivers of corpses”; ten years later, CNN showed photos of that war torn country, with dead bodies on roads and floating in the rivers.

Another episode, more controversial, had the Virgin Mary urging that all religions reconcile because all people are her “children”. Ten years later, Europe watched with horror as three ethnic groups with different religious backgrounds killed each other in that area.

Even visions that are completely discarded by church experts can have eerie prerecognition: One episode of what most people would call “mass hysteria” occured in a Catholic Basque area of Spain a few years before their terrible civil war in the 1930’s. Clairvoiance? Sensitivity to the future? Paranoia? I have no idea.

So why would “Mama Mary” visit a non European in remote provinces of a poor Asian country?

You might be surprised to learn that Christianity is becomeing a religion of Asia, Africa, and South America, a phenomenum ignored by the elite western press. Ten percent of Chinese claim to be Christians, Korean Christians are sending missionaries to the Middle East, and even that bastion of Islam, Saudi Arabia, has an underground church of one million foreign workers who profess Christianity.

For those from small villages, reading the New Testament is not an intellectual exercize, but is reading about reality, about how life is seen all around them. You have crooked politicians, soldiers that push you around, and sick or crippled children who need healing. The parables about seeds not growing in the weeds, the lost coin that was found by a woman, and the son lost to drugs who comes home to be welcomed joyfully by his father are the stories of their lives. And into the hard reality of daily life comes Jesus, not as a ruler, but as one of them, an ordinary worker.

As Professor Jenkins notes in an article in The Atlantic magazine:

Southern Christians are reading the New Testament and taking it very seriously; in it they see the power of Jesus fundamentally expressed through his confrontations with demonic powers, particularly those causing sickness and insanity. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see,” Jesus says in the Gospel according to Matthew (11: 4-5). “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” For the past two hundred years Northern liberals have employed various nonliteral interpretations of these healing passages—perhaps Jesus had a good sense of the causes and treatment of psychosomatic ailments? But that is not, of course, how such scenes are understood within the Third Church.

So what should you conclude?

Don’t ask me. I’m a doctor, not a theologian.

Well, I suspect my relatives will stop by when they visit family in the area, but for the majority of people, it will merely be another part of the religious landscape, along with the “3 o’clock” minute of prayer or the fiestas on saints days.

But I suspect a lot of locals will be pleased to know that it is now official that Mama Mary has visited her people here in the Philippines (and that Mary has overcome all those bossy European and Americans priests who pooh poohed the episode, not on it’s merits, but because they insisted that Mama Mary wouldn’t visit a non European in remote provinces of a poor Asian country).

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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