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Finding Mary in the Missions

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Maureen Crowley
Heil

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that it does not have to be May for me to focus on the Blessed Mother. The rosary -- especially the World Mission Rosary -- is my "go to" prayer. I have an alarm set on my phone to remind me to say the Angelus at noon every day. Every room in my house is graced with some image or statue of Mary. A trip to the missions is not complete until I've found a local Madonna to bring home.

Anytime I speak at a school or parish for the Missionary Childhood Association, I bring different artifacts from the country about which I will speak; the Blessed Mother is always the centerpiece.

Perhaps I should have warned Bishop Donald Lippert, OFM Cap, and the OSF Sisters who gave me hospitality in Papua New Guinea (PNG) about my love for all things Marian, but they found out soon enough. As I walked into the convent, I saw a poster of Our Lady that so distracted me that I almost missed hearing some of the introductions! Not only was Mary and her beautiful Baby looking right at me, they were smiling, too!

Next, I visited a rectory on which the Propagation of the Faith had installed solar panels. In a place where government electrical grids shut down daily -- sometimes for hours -- our donors' gift means so much to the resident priests.

After that tour, Father Marek took me to the church. My eyes found the same image immediately! And so it was at every church, chapel, and mission station I visited. The problem was, no one seemed to know where I could find one to take home!

The Sisters were now on a mission, determined that their Madonna would visit our Boston children. They made phone calls, asked in shops... but no one seemed to know where this Mary came from.

On my last day in PNG, we went to a local market as rain poured down. We dodged mud and crowds, finding only vegetables and used clothing for sale. No Mary there. I did what my own mother taught me -- I offered it up. There were so many more important things about which to worry.

We returned to the Diocesan Center for one last visit -- a small bookstore offering faith formation materials. When one of the Sisters mentioned our fruitless search, the man running the shop reached under the counter and said, "You mean this one?"

We laughed and hugged and cried. Our PNG Madonna had been found. Of course, she continued to smile at me and asked, "Was I ever lost?"

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.



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