Turning to a pillar of strength when facing challenges and crises has been humanity’s tendency throughout history. Christians recognize the need to draw upon the wisdom and help of our Creator when facing insurmountable tasks, persecution, plague and disaster.

How, then, does the Blessed Virgin Mary figure into our pleas, when we can just as easily implore the Father or Jesus, his Son, directly? What special grace does Mary possess that the faithful should seek her guidance and intercession?

Who Mary Is and Is Not

The Church holds that Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, but is also our spiritual mother, given to us by Christ himself from the Cross when he told the beloved disciple John, “Behold your mother” (Jn 26-27).

“We are not orphans, we have a mother in heaven,” said Pope Francis in his May 10, 2017, audience as he was preparing to visit Fatima, Portugal, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there.

“In difficult moments, may Mary, the mother that Jesus has given to all, always guide our steps,” the Pope prayed.

Mary’s role as mother is quietly shown at the Wedding Feast of Cana, during which Mary directs the wine stewards to “do whatever he tells you,” in spite of Jesus’ protest that “my hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:1-11). Mary does not argue with Jesus, but directs the stewards to be obedient, demonstrating faith that Jesus will respond – and modeling for us how to be confident that our prayers will be heard.

Catholic devotees of Marian prayer understand that Mary is not the object of worship, but, rather, her mediation directs the faithful toward Christ her Son.

Explained doctrinally at the Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D., Mary as Theotokos, Greek for “God-bearer or “mother of God,” assumes a title and position of both honor and mediator. It is through her cooperation that the hope of the world was born.

Mother of Hope

In June 2020, as the world was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis asked for new titles of Mary to be added to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Litany of Loreto. One of those titles was “Mother of Hope.”

Throughout Church history Catholics have confirmed that hope in the Blessed Mother’s intercession by large-scale consecrations and prayers seeking her assistance during despairing times.

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Pope Francis consecrated all of humanity to Mary on May 1, 2020.

Most recently, on March 25, with the advent of the current war in Ukraine following a Russian invasion in February, the Holy Father consecrated Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the feast of the Annunciation. This was done in tandem by bishops and priests around the world, including by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in the Trenton Diocese.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said via Zoom March 29, “This consecration to our Mother, who crushed the head of the ancient dragon, this strong presence of the Mother of God among us, is very important for us.” He led a simultaneous consecration at the Cathedral of the Mother of God in Zarvanytsia – a pilgrimage site in western Ukraine that, according to local tradition, derived its name from the miraculous icon of the Mother of God in 1240.

Consecration, an act which sets aside a person or nation for a sacred purpose, is an accepted devotional practice of the Catholic Church, expressing great love and trust in God. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments explains consecration to Mary as “a conscious recognition of the singular role of Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the universal and exemplary importance of her witness to the Gospel, of trust in her intercession …”

A Mother for Troubled Times

Often people seeking Mary’s help – even having visions of her – are during times of fear, loss and violence. Her apparitions coincide with pivotal times of strife, frequently including warnings and pleas for a return to prayer.

The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda seemed to be foreshadowed by the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Kibeho College in 1981. The teens who witnessed the apparitions saw apocalyptic visions of violence, saying that the Blessed Mother asked everyone for prayer, penance and fasting to prevent a terrible war and bring about peace – and that her purpose was a message of conversion.

On Aug. 21, 1879, 15 people witnessed a two-hour silent vision on the gable of St. John the Baptist Church in the small village of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, which depicted several figures clothed in white: the Blessed Mother wearing a crown, St. Joseph and St. John the Apostle, as well as the Eucharistic Lamb on an altar in front of a cross, flanked by angels. The apparition came near the end of the Great Famine, caused by a combination of potato blight and government oppression of the predominantly Catholic Irish people through Penal Laws.

Our Lady of Fatima, one of the best-known apparitions of Our Lady, appeared to three shepherd children on multiple occasions in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal – in the midst of World War I and just before the 1918 onset of the Spanish Flu pandemic. Entreating the children to pray the Rosary daily for an end to war, she issued a warning: “If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. This war will end, but if men do not refrain from offending God, another and more terrible war will begin during the pontificate of Pius XI.”

While many crises have eased after Church-wide participation in Marian prayers, invoking Mary’s intercession during times of distress is a plea for comfort and protection, regardless of the outcome. As a mother, her very instinct is to protect. And her spiritual presence brings comfort the way earthly mothers reassure their own children. Her presence says, “I’m here with you, I understand your struggles, and I will bring your petitions to Jesus my Son.”

In his 1997 catechetical series on the Blessed Mother, Pope St. John Paul II writes, “The trust of the faithful in Jesus’ Mother spurs them to call upon her for their daily needs. Mary is not indifferent to her children’s needs. They are certain that her maternal heart cannot remain indifferent to the material and spiritual distress of her children.”

Historical references collected from EWTN.com, Unesco.org, Britannica.com, CatholicWorldReport.com, ukrarcheparchy.us and Catholic News Service.