Pastoral Letter 2: Magaliesberg Shrine: A House of Mercy

The Most Reverend Buthi Tlhagale, O.M.I., Archbishop of Johannesburg has issued the following Pastoral Letter.

Pastoral Letter 2

Magaliesberg Shrine: A House of Mercy

Many wish to associate a Shrine of Mary with the apparitions of Mary.  Historically and traditionally, her apparitions have been, and still is the engine that powers many who go on pilgrimages.  Apparitions are at the heart of Marian devotions.  Devotees to this day continue to flock to some of the more well-known shrines, namely, Paris: Our Lady appeared to Catherine Labouré in 1830; Lourdes: She appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858; Knock, (Ireland): She appeared to  Margaret Beirne in 1879; Fatima: She appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco in 1917.  Then there is Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico) where She appeared to Juan Diego in 1531.

It is this long and widespread tradition of devotion to Our Lady by Catholics of different generations and Catholics from all walks of life, that we seek to draw inspirations from.  Our faith is rooted in their faith.  These pilgrims are “witnesses to faith around us like a cloud” (Heb. 12.1).  Anecdotes of miraculous cures attributed to the intercessory role of Our Lady abound.  This is a rich source of encouragement and hope to the many believers who pray to be freed from their day to day predicaments who wish to be “lifted from the dust and to be raised from the ash heap” (1 Sam. 2.5).  People draw inspiration not only from the great world shrines, but also, closer home, from Ngome, Kevelaer and Ntshongweni and from the many parish grottos where parishioners ever so often gather to venerate Mary, the Mother of God.

The Mother of Mercy Shrine, here in Magaliesburg, should be seen, as it were, as the coming together of the parish grottos of the Archdiocese.  It is a destination site for the pilgrims of the Archdiocese and for all those who wish to be fellow-pilgrims.  Magaliesburg Shrine is a special place where solidarity with the pilgrims of the world is shared.

We share faith in God the Father “who is rich in mercy” (Eph. 2.4).  Together, with the encouraging help of Our Mother Mary, we have our “eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb. 12.1) for scripture says: “He who sees me sees the Father” (Jn. 14.9).

A Shrine is a place where we venerate the Mother of Our Saviour, Our Redeemer.  It is therefore also a place where we bring our pain and suffering in search of a relief.  Penance is an integral part of a pilgrimage, hence the Stations of the Cross, the “via dolorosa”, where we identify ourselves with Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.  We hope that this will be embraced and expressed by pilgrims when they will walk to Magaliesburg from Honeydew, Krugersdorp, Soweto, Randfontein, Carletonville, Westonaria, Khutsong etc.  These walks will serve as an expression of penance undertaken by the pilgrims.

Traditional shrines are generally associated with luminous apparitions, sightings of a lady shimmering in white, ecstatic encounters, shepherd visionaries, foot-prints, or bloodstains left by the apparitions, child seers etc.  Here in Magaliesburg, there have been no such happenings.  Devotions to Our Lady need not depend on such happenings.  “My sacrifice is a humble heart, O God, you will not reject a humble heart and a repentant heart” (Ps. 50.17).  Christ said to Thomas: “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn. 20.29).   We have not seen the apparitions, and yet, we believe.

Some of the pilgrimages to the well-known shrines overseas were associated with the socio-political developments of the nation.  Lourdes’ pilgrimages emerged after the French-Prussian war in 1870.  Initial pilgrimages to Lourdes were said to have been a response to the French defeat.  Pilgrimages were seen as penance for the nation.  Pilgrims longed for Mary’s maternal intervention.

Some say that the Knock (Ireland) apparitions were due to tensions caused by crop failure in County Mayo (1877-1878), or by the evictions of tenant farmers in 1879, five days before the apparitions.

Magaliesburg on the other hand, is neither a response to some national upheaval nor a response to some social turmoil.  Even though there are some social disruptions such as the burning of drugs and prostitution places; xenophobia incidents, service delivery protests, debilitating levels of unemployment, etc.  Perhaps, inadvertently, Magaliesburg is responding to the apparent loss of Catholics to the aggressive wave of the Pentecostal, Evangelical and Charismatic movements.  Magaliesburg seeks to reinvigorate our lukewarm Catholic faith; to rekindle the faith of lapsed Catholics and to invite back those who have abandoned the Catholic Church.  Some say quality matters, but we say numbers matter also.

The Shrine of the Mother of Mercy is inspired by the strong belief that Mary is “indissolubly joined” to the Redeemer, the unique and only intermediary between God and humankind.  Mary is our intercessor by virtue of her privileged and close relationship to her Son.  The Shrine is inspired by Christ’s words: “Ask and it shall be given to you” (Lk. 11.9), and: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I shall be there with them” (Mt. 18.20).

Some people argue that Marian devotion flourishes only in those societies where fathers are ineffective in their families.  This perception of men is a strong challenge to men, for it suggests that men are in fact the weaker sex.  We hope that the Catholic Men’s Forum will take this theme as a serious challenge to the dignity of men as fathers and husbands.

In conclusion, The Mother of Mercy Shrine will not only be a Reminder, a Symbol of Mary as Mother of Mercy, but rather as a living house of Mercy for all those who seek a mother’s embrace and intervention.  We urge every single one of you here present to be actively involved in the building of this wonderful promise to our Mother and to the people of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg.

+ Archbishop Buti Tlhagale o.m.i.
25th February, 2017