National Geographic has published a landmark article on Our Lady, entitled “How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman”. There is an excellent and beautifully written account of Our Lady of Guadalupe, including a history of Juan Diego’s tilma, which miraculously bears the image of Our Lady. The image of Our Lady is superimposed on St Juan Diego’s tilma like a photo.
It’s great, too, that National Geographic mentioned the time in 1785 when a cleaner was polishing the silver frame that holds the tilma and by mistake spilled nitric acid on the image. Miraculously, the acid did not rupture or corrode the image.
It’s also quite bold on National Geographic’s part to refer to the event in 1921 when politician Luciano Pérez Carpio was trying to interfere with the influence of the Catholic piety on ordinary Mexicans. He decided to place a bomb in a bouquet of flowers below the tilma. The explosion demolished the altar but the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was left unscathed.
Catholics may dispute some claims in the article. But we can agree that the tone is deeply respectful, and that the Catholics and Muslims interviewed on their devotion to Our Lady were not ridiculed for their beliefs but were given space to explain why they revere and put their trust in Our Lady.
The article may seem to have dropped out of the clear blue sky, but I believe it is a result of Pope Francis’s spectacular popularity in the mainstream press. The media, in their Francis frenzy, have done stories on the major moments of his pontificate and have simultaneously covered his devotion to Our Lady.
Francis’s very first outing as Pope on March 14, 2013 was to Santa Maria Maggiore, where he laid a bouquet of flowers before Our Lady’s altar and sang the Salve Regina.
On the first day of his pontificate, Pope Francis said that he was praying to Our Lady that “she may watch over all of Rome”. The eyes of the world were on the new Pope as he knelt before an icon of Our Lady and bowed his head in supplication.
The first meeting between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had the Daily Mail showing Francis giving Benedict a framed icon of Our Lady as a gift.
Media coverage leading up to and during the Pope’s visit to America was full of images of the Pope praying to Our Lady. Reuters carried a photo of Francis blessing a painting of Our Lady with their story that announced that the Holy Father would go to the White House to meet Obama.
The most highly esteemed pope of our times has been overwhelmingly portrayed as one who is never afraid to show that he defers to Our Lady. This would have prepared the highly diverse readership to warm to a piece on Our Lady. The National Geographic is the seventh largest publication in the US, and as a media powerhouse it will be reaching a generation of people who have grown accustomed to seeing Pope Francis in prayerful supplication before Our Lady.
The “Francis effect” means that were the media to criticise the act of venerating Our Lady, it would also be an implied criticism of Pope Francis who is quoted by the National Geographic as concisely saying, “She is my mama”.