By Ann Schneible
ROME, OCTOBER 4, 2012 (Zenit.org).- An international symposium, dedicated to the study of Mary and her cultural and theological significance throughout history, commenced today at the Centro Russia in Rome.
The objective of the two-day event, entitled "Mary, Sign of Faith (and Only Hope)", is to explore the cult of Mary in order to explore her role in leading Christians towards greater devotion to Christ. Participants today had the opportunity to hear from a wide variety of experts, such as author Leonie Caldecott on the history of Marian images beginning with pre-Reformation England, as well as from historian Michael Hesemann on the historical person of Mary.
Edmund Mazza, history professor at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, California, is the primary organizer for this symposium event. He told ZENIT that the conference was conceived in response to Pope Benedict XVI's all for Marian conferences, a call which came through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was of particular importance within the context of the forthcoming Year of Faith.
"It is important to look at Mary as a model, as a sign of faith," he said. "We're on our way to God, we don't see the beatific vision yet, so we need symbols, we need signs to take us on the road. And it's very important that we turn to Mary because as Louis de Montfort, the great doctor of the Church once said, it's through Mary that Jesus came into the world, and it's through Mary that Jesus will reign in the world. She had a role to play at the beginning when He first came, and she has a role to play now as we approach the end times."
Another reason for the conference was its coincidence with the 95th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima's miracle of the sun in October 1917, which is followed one month later by the Russian revolution. "We know from the Papal approved apparitions of Fatima that the conversion of Russia has been entrusted to Mary… And that's also why we chose Centro Russia Ecomenica, because again Mary has a providential role to play in the conversion of Russia."
This conference also comes just days before the opening of the bishops' synod on New Evangelization. Due to her unique role within salvation history, Mary is seen as central to evangelization. "Of course," Mazza continued, "any attempt at evangelization has to start with Mary because Mary was the first evangelizer. She held up little Baby Jesus and showed the Wise Men, and he was the light to the Gentiles. She helped Jesus work His first miracle when he began his public ministry."
Mary's role as evangelist, moreover, extends beyond the Gospels and to foreign continents. Our Lady of Guadalupe, for instance, was "the catalyst that helped to convert 9 million Aztecs over the course of 15 years, whereas before her apparition in Mexico City they had maybe a few hundred, or a few thousand converts."
In addition to the synod, the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II Council approaches this month, and it is recalled that for some time there was a decline with regard to Mary and devotion to her. "It is ironic," Mazza pointed out, "that after the Vatican II Council, especially for the first ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years there was a decline in Marian devotion. I say it's ironic, because when Pope John XXIII opened the Council exactly 50 years ago next week, he did it on the feast day of the Maternity of Mary, which actually has subsequently changed."
With regard to renewing Marian devotion in modern society: "Pope Paul VI actually tried to do it in the heat of the crisis. It was in 1972 when he complained that the smoke of Satan had somehow entered into the Church. He issued an encyclical on Mary, and tried to bring about greater devotion to her, and then of course Blessed John Paul II took on the title 'Totus Tuus' as his motto: 'I am all yours.'"
Blessed John Paul II also held a devotion to our Lady of Fatima. "She saved his life on the day he was shot in St Peter's square. He was shot on May 13th, which was the day she first appeared to the children in 1917."
"There are promising signs that we can renew our faith in Jesus and get closer to Him by knowing Mary. I like to say: No Mary, no Jesus; know Mary, know Jesus."
Prof. Mazza concluded that, with regard to spreading the importance of Marian devotion, "there's a certain urgency of the moment; we see a rise in a world without God."
"Our Holy Father has talked about the dictatorship of relativism, about the errors of socialism, and during this time of world-wide economic crisis there is a temptation to think only in terms of those things. When our Lady came to Lourdes, and when our Lady came to Fatima in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she offered another plan. She said we have to make reparation to her Immaculate Heart. We have to pray the Rosary every day. We have to promote the five first Saturdays. The Pope has to consecrate Russia, together with all the bishops."
"I think if we want to solve he worldwide crisis," Mazza said, "we have to actually start with Mary, because when God wanted to solve the worldwide crisis, He sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, and that is how the New Testament begins. Whenever God wants to renew the world, He does it through Mary."