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Our Lady of Africa Shrine

Our Lady of Africa Shrine

Q: Can you provide me with information about the shrine to "Our Lady of Africa" in Abidjan [Ivory Coast]?

A: Below is a statement on the topic from John Paul II published in the March 1988 issue of L'Osservatore Romano.

Today we wish to go on pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine at Abidjan, in Cote d'Ivoire, which is called "Our Lady of Africa, Mother of All Graces." It is a title which includes a wish, a commitment to evangelization, and a form of consecration of the entire African continent.
The sanctuary is very new: it was inaugurated only about a year ago, in February 1987. On the occasion of my first pastoral visit in those lands, I myself blessed the foundation stone. The building, constructed by the contribution of the generous sacrifices of the local Catholic communities, has an architectural look that reaches to the skies, like a finger pointing to heaven.

At the entrance of the sanctuary the gospel words of Mary are carved in large letters: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to your word."

The interior of the sanctuary is illuminated by large and beautiful windows; it opens up into a wide amphitheatre, where the functions can be celebrated with thousands of faithful participating. The spiral dome that dominates the sanctuary, and the cement image that towers above it are visible at great distances to those who pass along the nearby roads. When illuminated in the evening they appear as a visual sign of Mary's motherly presence in the region.

The Virgin Mary, venerated there, is represented by a statue in precious wood, the work of a young sculptor of the country. Having the features of a girl from Cote d'Ivoire, Mary is standing, tall and slender. However, her hairstyle and the long sash that is wrapped around her, with the end draped over her left arm, is not characteristic of any ethnic group. Pleasant and smiling, she presents the Child Jesus, who reaches out, with open arms to the faithful.

Thus the artist wished to indicate a profound theological truth: the Son of God was born of a woman and he is given to us by a woman, whose name is Mary.

Her maternal gestures are wonderfully spontaneous. Her youth signifies that she, never touched by the stain of sin, belongs to all ages of history and, like her son, is our contemporary. Her smile speaks of peace, joy of spirit, the habit of interior contemplation, love of God, which made her the privileged abode of the Holy Spirit.

Mary now embodies the beatific glory of God in body and soul. However, for us she always remains the woman who, at Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, lived on earth like us. We rightly represent her as having the physical traits of every people, and therefore, as an African woman, the loving Mother, who is everywhere near each of her sons and daughters. She continues to give us her Son, because she does not keep for herself any of the gifts she received from God. She gives all that she has, and she gives herself with incomparable motherly love.

In this Marian Year let us pray that all of Africa, that continent of hope, may be ever more open to the light and love of the Saviour of mankind.

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