Some elements of Marian missionary spirituality from a meditation with the image of Our Lady of Africa
This is a personal meditation with the image of Our Lady of Africa. I have learned to meditate with images (icons) with Eastern Christians in Egypt, Slovenia and with a Serbian Orthodox friend. I invite everyone to look at the image and to be touched by the details. One can make a whole spiritual retreat with the image of Our Lady of Africa. I am only giving you a summary of my meditation because of the limitations of the article.
Presence in the world
A statue of Our Lady of Africa stands above the basilica. This is the first mission of God: to be present to people through his incarnation. It is an act of love. Mission is above all a loving presence. This image of Our Lady of Africa expresses a silent presence.
A shining light
The image shines with a sunlight-like color. The crown and the skin of Mary have the same color. It is a color that seems to be a mixture of all colors. It is humanity of all races, languages, peoples, nations united and carried by Mary. It is humanity illuminated by the divine presence.
The crown is a symbol of sovereignty. Mary is queen because her son is king. The tip of the crown is the cross, symbol of Christ. The cross supplants a globe. Christ is the King of the universe. Therefore, his mother, Mary, is also Queen of the Universe. The closed crown of Mary (a circle with arches attached to it that meet at the top) with a globe is an imperial symbol: Mary’s sovereignty is complete. Seven half-arches with fleur-de-lis can be seen: this is the purity of the Virgin Mary. It is the answer of the one who is conceived without sin (Immaculate Conception) to the 7 capital sins, it is victory over sin.
Mary’s veil appears as rays coming out of the crown and pouring over the mantle. It is a very thin veil that does not hide the hair. The veil of Our Lady of Africa is the divine graces. These graces come from her Son and are poured over Mary’s whole body. She is full of grace. The thinness of the veil shows an intimacy with her Son. Our Lady of Africa is not concerned with hiding her femininity with a veil. Rather, the veil becomes a symbol of union with God.
Hair is a sign of femininity, and of beauty. The veil does not hide the hair. Mary’s hair reminds us that she is a woman, feminine. I think of the holy women of the Gospel who expressed much love for Jesus. I also think of the women whose femininity is abused and exploited. We pray for them and commit ourselves to act against this abuse.
Mary looks down on humanity. She looks with love at those who pass by. She intercedes so that they may always be blessed. This is what it means to be a missionary. Her eyes are slightly closed. She is an inner woman. It is from within, from intimacy with God, that she receives her life and her mission. Her head tilted to the right is also reminiscent of her son on the cross, the supreme sacrifice of love and redemption of humanity. She was present. Her gaze exudes humility, simplicity and interiority.
Mary’s mantle is abundant. Mary is full of grace and grace overflows. The mantle is blue with white stripes and gold motifs. The blue in the iconography symbolises wisdom and refers to incarnateWisdom, the Word, the Son of God. It is the presence of the Son in her, it is life in abundance. This overflowing life is experienced at the wedding in Cana. Blue is also heaven, holiness. From this blue emerges depth and calm. White is the colour of divinity, the divine presence. The scattered golden motifs represent the Holy Spirit blowing. The mantle is in the form of a chasuble, a sign of the priestly function of sanctifying. Mary gives the impression of celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice. The white band in the middle of the robe resembles a stole, the symbol par excellence of the priesthood. Mary sanctifies the people as “priest and intercessor.” The mantle covers Mary’s body. This is evocative of the Assumption. Mary’s body has not known corruption. It is raised to heaven.
The open arms are the presence that welcomes everyone without distinction, without discrimination. They are arms that invite us to enter into intimacy with Jesus through Mary who wants to embrace us like a mother. The open and lowered arms are a presence without weapons, without violence, without protection, a vulnerable presence that offers only what it holds dearest: Jesus Christ. Her open hands show humility, purity, simplicity in a world that clings to power and wealth. She has the attitude of the gentle, the non-violent, the one who is incapable of doing harm. It is also the arms that offer. Mary’s fingers are separated. She holds nothing back. She keeps nothing. She gives everything.
Moussa Serge Traore