by Edgardo C. de Vera
When Indira Gandhi, President of the largest democracy in the world, was assassinated, the entire world mourned. What no one outside her circle of intimates knew was that she greatly respected the Christian veneration of the Mother of Jesus.
Her private secretary, Dr. Alexander, tells us of this incident when she gave a garden party for her personal staff. As she went around shaking hands with her guests, she pulled Dr. Alexander's wife close to her and whispered: "You're an Orthodox Christian, aren't you? Tell me: what is your Church's attitude towards the Blessed Virgin? Does your Church venerate her as much as the Catholic Church does? Or do you Orthodox Christians have a more reserved attitude?"
The secretary's wife answered "Mary is also highly venerated in our Orthodox Church. We pray to her; we lay before her all our needs; we address her as Mother of God."
A few days after the garden party, a parcel was delivered at the home of the secretary. It contained a small statue of Mary with the Child Jesus. It was a personal gift from Indira Gandhi.
For centuries, Islam has been impenetrable to Christian evangelization. In fact at the initial stage of Islam's history, they swept clean the whole Northern Africa of Christianity leaving nothing but only ruins and historical documents to prove Christians were once in those areas of the continent. Islam is the second largest religion of the world, and is growing. Often, it is violently anti-Christian.
A certain writer surmised that the gap between Christianity and Islam can be bridged by way of the Virgin Mary. The reason? The Muslims venerate her as the Mother of Jesus. They ranked Jesus with Mohammed and Abraham as a great prophet. And as reference, they say, "Jesus, son of Mary."
The Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned 34 times in the Quran. In fact, one of the "suras" or chapters bears her name. Hers is the only personal name of a woman found in that sacred book of Islam.
In doctrine, the Quran more than once affirms the virgin birth. The Quran never calls Jesus the son of Joseph, or of any man. Its description of the Annunciation is virtually the same as is found in the Bible, Luke 1:26. The Quran calls Mary "most favored by God". And when she asks the angel (also Gabriel in the Quran), he answers, "Such is the will of God. He creates what he wills. When he decrees a thing, He need only say, 'Be' and it is.”
Is it more than coincidence that the site of Mary's greatest apparition in modern times was in a Portuguese village named after Mohammed's daughter, Fatima? And let us look back about half a century before this to the apparition of Mary in Lourdes, France. Lourdes comes from "Lorus", the Christian name given to Mirat, a Moor commanding officer who became a Christian after his surrender to Charlemagne with the Bishop of Le Puy, Monsieur Turpin. This once impregnable citadel of the Moors is now a place of pilgrimage to an average of 3,500,000 pilgrims annually. It is now known as Lourdes from Lorus-the Christian name given to Mirat when he was baptized.
Veneration of Mary might be the only bridge of understanding between the two largest religions in the world - Islam and Christianity. In fact, the Ramadan message from the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in 1988 was: "Mary, a model of faith, prayer, and confidence in God".
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