Mary Queen of Peace Grotto Celebration
Diocese of Sunyani, Ghana, Africa
Sunday, August 14, 2022 

Brothers and sisters, grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I bring greetings and sentiments of great esteem and gratitude to you from your brothers and sisters of the Church of Scranton in the United States of America.   On behalf of Father Gerald Shantillo, Vicar General, and Father Brian Clarke, Director of our Pontifical Missions Office, who have joined me for this pastoral visit, I thank your bishop, the Most Reverend Matthew Gyamfi, for his generous hospitality and welcome.  And I thank all of you – the clergy, religious and lay faithful of this blessed Diocese – for opening your hearts to us as we participate in this pilgrimage of faith to this sacred grotto and as we pray for and with you, for the needs of our Church and for our suffering world.

A little more than two weeks ago, at the 19th Plenary Assembly of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar held in your capital city of Accra, Bishop David Malloy, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace on which I serve, expressed the solidarity of the Church in the United States with the Church of Africa in a document entitled A Renewed Call to Solidarity with Africa.

Allow me to share a few words from this document:  “Considering the challenges and opportunities that Africa faces and considering the strong bonds of communion that the Church in the U.S. and Africa share, we believe now is the time for us as the Catholic Church in the United States to renew our solidarity with the Church and people of this land. We should never underestimate the power of prayer for God’s grace as we pray for our brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa, remembering we need one another as the body of Christ (1Cor. 12:12-26). We express our profound gratitude for the contributions African Catholics are making to the Church in the United States and for their tremendous witness to the faith, hope, and love of God. May they continue to inspire and encourage us to bridge the physical distance that separates us from the peoples of Africa to deepen mutual bonds of love.”

Brothers and sisters, such gratitude is why we have journeyed to Ghana to be with you during these sacred days.  I thank you for your support and generosity to the Church of Scranton.  Through the grace of God, Bishop Matthew and I began a relationship four years ago that has resulted in ten priests having been assigned to serve the faithful people of our Diocese.  I thank the Bishop and the priests who have blessed us with their ministry.  I thank in a very special way the families of the priests who minister in our Church.  I know it is a sacrifice to let go of your sons and I am deeply grateful.  Finally, I thank all of you for living your faith in such a way as to inspire men to pursue priestly vocations and to share from your bounty with those who are in need.  …  I commit myself and our local Church to reciprocate your generosity and to stand with you in whatever way I can.

Now, allow me to reflect upon the true heart of our gathering today that prompts us to give thanks for the blessing of faith and for the Lord’s invitation to build his Church as we reflect on the example of Mary, our hope!

Fifty years ago on May 21st, on a Sunday afternoon in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, a typically large crowd of pilgrims had gathered in a corner near the main entrance of the great church to admire, among so many other works of art, Michelangelo’s famed sculpture, the Pieta.  You may be familiar with it.  They marveled at the skill of the great Renaissance sculptor.  They were touched and stirred to their hearts by the image itself:  Mary holding in her arms the lifeless body of her son, Jesus.  …  I don’t know if any of you recall what happened next.

From the midst of the crowd, a deranged man leapt over the altar rail and began smashing the statue with a hammer.  By the time the attacker was subdued, he had struck the statue fifteen times, leaving some fifty large pieces of marble and over 150 fragments scattered about on the floor.  The virgin’s arm was broken, fingers were destroyed and her face was badly damaged.

News of the attack quickly spread throughout the world that the cherished statue was damaged beyond repair.  But Vatican art historians and conservationists weren’t ready to give up that quickly.  They collaborated with experts in the arts and sciences to repair the statue and to restore it to its original beauty.  Painstakingly, they labored for over a year until the day when the statue was finally put back on display in St. Peter’s Basilica, albeit now behind protective glass.

The restoration of the statue was done so meticulously that to the naked eye, no one could detect the damaged areas – with one exception.   At the request of then Pope Paul VI, one scar on the back of the virgin’s veil remained as a reminder of the attack and the brokenness of our world.  Yet, the restored statue gives testimony to the power of our faith, when men and women set aside differences, open their lives to God and work together to restore lost beauty to God’s creation.

In so many respects, this story of the Pieta serves as a metaphor for our journey of faith – for the power of the risen Jesus to heal our broken world – and for the life and selfless love of the woman of faith whom we honor and celebrate this day:  Mary, our hope!

Mary occupies a unique place in salvation history, doesn’t she?  She has been a focus for so many of us as we’ve attempted to journey through life as faithful disciples of her son.  Yet, what is it about Mary makes her so appealing to us?  The answer, I believe, is not found in her exalted place as Queen of Heaven.  Mary’s appeal to us is discovered in the scriptures – the Word of God – and emerges from the simple, ordinary, yet profound stories of her life.  Her appeal is born from her very beginning as one like us – saved by the mercy and love of God.

Let’s reflect a bit on how Mary engages our lives.  I assure you that she will speak most poignantly not from her throne in heaven, but from the very same world that we seek to navigate with all of its struggles and challenges.

We begin with today’s gospel – a reminder of the blessings of human relationships and how God works mightily within them.  …  No different than the joy that you experience today as you gather with friends, family, and fellow believers to reflect upon your faith, Mary hastened to her cousin Elizabeth in order to celebrate the marvelous ways in which God was working in both of their lives.  Their encounter surely affirms and supports our gathering today, doesn’t it?

But let’s step back a bit to where we first encounter Mary in the gospels to discover the many ways in which she speaks to our lives and gives us hope.  …  At the outset, Mary is the object of an ugly rumor, isn’t she?  She was pregnant before she lived with her husband.  That she conceived her child by the Holy Spirit simply wasn’t believed.  Even Joseph felt it would be best to divorce her quietly.  …  Isn’t Mary a source of comfort for all who have suffered from rumors and have had their reputations soiled?  Doesn’t she speak a message of encouragement to all those women who choose life for their unborn children?

We also discover that in her initial encounter with God, Mary, like us, was afraid.  When invited to become the Mother of God, Mary’s response is not unlike what we might say.  “How can this be?”  …  “What does God want from me?”

And when her newly born son was pursued by those who wanted to destroy him, isn’t Mary like every mother and parent who worries about their children and wants to protect them harm – from drug dealers, to child molesters, to the media which so often glamorizes false values.

Recall too that after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph fled with their son to Egypt – a foreign land – homeless and displaced.  …  They were refugees – like the millions of refugees and immigrants who wander our world in search of a better life for their children and are often, sadly, turned away.

In later years, when Jesus was lost in Jerusalem during Passover, he told his parents who were frantically searching for him, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Do you recall that Mary and Joseph “did not understand?”  …  How many of you don’t understand your children’s decisions or choices?

At some point, Mary became a widow and cried like so many of us who have lost someone we love in death.  …  She watched as her son leave home to begin his ministry, even as she faced the fear and uncertainly of life alone.  …  Then the worst that any mother – anyone of us – could ever experience occurred.  She saw her son mocked, beaten, and hung to die on a cross, while she stood and watched.  …  Like Mary, sometimes all we can do is pray and suffer in silence.

Finally, Mary cradled the dead body of her son in her arms and sobbed uncontrollably.  …  To every parent who has ever lost a child – or a spouse, parent, or friend, Mary knows the agonizing path that so many have been forced to walk.

My friends, Mary has known all of life, as we experience it.  And we called her blessed – not because she reigns today as our Queen of Heaven – but because she walked this world with faith and trust as a disciple of her son, Jesus.  Mary’s “yes” to participate in God’s plan didn’t guarantee her a perfect life, free from suffering and pain.  It did, however, enable her to have hope in God’s promises.

Pope Francis described Mary’s vision of life in these words:  “At the message of the angel, Mary did not hide her surprise.  Hers was the astonishment of realizing that God had chosen her, a simple maid of Nazareth – not someone who lived in a palace amid power and riches, or one who had done extraordinary things – but simply someone who was open to God and put her trust in him, even without understanding everything: ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38). That was her answer.  …  And God tells us: trust me, do not be afraid, leave yourself behind and follow me!”

Dear brothers and sister, the message of Mary and the message of this great celebration today – is a simple message of hope and trust.  …  Mary is faithfulness rewarded.  …  She now is where we hope to be at the end of our journey of life and faith.  …  And she reminds us that the same mercy and love of God that entrusted to her the gift of her son Jesus, will fill our lives and bring us to lasting peace.