A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Healing the World through the Immaculate Heart of Mary

The brutal murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich England indicates that there is an underlying conflict of world religions that can break out at any time even in the most settled of countries.

The two assassins were unusual in that they remained at the scene to deliver a message to passers-by, which was that they killed this soldier because they believed the British army had been killing their families in Afghanistan.

The whole scenario is so far-fetched and so irrational it almost defies analysis let alone peace-making and healing. There are hints in the behaviour of these desperate young men that point the way to understanding. They waited around to confront the police, a battle they could not win, so they were ready for ‘martyrdom’. And strangely they allowed women to comfort the dying soldier on the street.

Local Muslim leaders condemned the attack, rightly considering that most of their flock just want to be good British citizens. These two assassins had been radicalised by the hard-line groups to which they belong. Which reminds everyone that Islam is far more bitterly divided between factions than Christianity. But before we feel smug or superior we ought recall Christianity’s appalling record in post-Reformation times. The hostility and violence between Sunni and Shia factions of Islam today is reminiscent of the Protestant/Catholic struggles of the 16th and 17th centuries.

How can the figure of Mary the mother of Jesus possibly bridge the gap between these two world religions? For a start she is deeply honoured in both traditions. Mary (Mariam in the Koran) is mentioned more often in the Muslim scripture as the mother of the prophet Jesus who is revered as a person of surpassing wisdom but not divine, than Mary in the New Testament. But in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity Mary is theotokos - God-bearer - Mother of God. The honours implicit in her Assumption into heaven make her the ‘highest honoured of our race’. To use other language she is the most powerful feminine Archetype of all.

Not many use this Jungian language, but it can be revealing. In an Opinion piece in the July 2013 Messenger Lifting the veil on page 34 the writer suggested that the intense standoff between Islam and Christianity will be healed only ‘in the reclaiming of the feminine principle bringing wholeness to the world soul’ by the process of telling their stories. This will be a prolonged process but it is not difficult to see honour to the Virgin Mary being a significant bridge between religions. There will continue to be martyrs on both sides as ‘fundamentalists’ of both stripes stop listening and strike out at symbols of their perceived oppression. The Muslim headscarf has become a ‘projection crucible’ for both sides - either a symbol of independence and religious freedom, or a symbol of the oppression and subjugation of women by men.Pieta

When Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI made his Regensburg address (12 September 2006), fifty Muslim scholars combined to make a response to him. What a marvellous result. Such exchanges are possible.

Mary of Nazareth held the lifeless body of her son at the foot of the Cross - not a universe away from the ‘angels of Woolwich’ kneeling by the lifeless form of the soldier on the street.

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