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More Catholics are finding spiritual gifts to give at Christmas, such as a comforting holy card of Our Lady holding St. Juan Diego.
BY DARIA SOCKEYRegister Correspondent
FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Joyce Pfaffinger wasn’t used to
receiving collect calls at the ordering line of the In the Arms of Mary
apostolate bookstore. But something told her to accept one.
It turned out to be from Allen M.,
an inmate at the State Correctional Institution. He spoke haltingly. “I’m
standing here, holding this picture that a nun gave me,” he said.
The picture was of Our Lady of
Guadalupe embracing St. Juan Diego, kneeling before her holding up empty hands.
Allen would be released in a few
weeks and didn’t know what would happen to him. But he needed to speak with the
people whose phone number was on that picture. Allen said it was the first
thing that had given him a ray of hope in prison.
Joyce breathed a quick prayer to
the Virgin of Guadalupe: “I said, ‘Okay, Mom, this is your son. What should I
say?’ Then I told him, ‘That’s you in the picture, she’s covering you with her
mantle.’ I also promised to send him one of our books, The Gift of Faith, so that he could learn more.”
Christmas joy can be elusive when
one’s troubles, great or small, loom large.
The burdens of illness, family problems,
financial difficulties or even guilt over past sinful behavior can weigh
heavily during the Advent season and Christmas.
In the Arms of Mary, a small lay
apostolate in Fort Collins,
Colo., is trying to spread the
word, both at Christmastime and throughout the year, that God really can
lighten our burdens, especially when we hand them to his mother.
And although the
foundation distributes books and educational materials by the hundreds, its
members have learned that in many cases, a picture is worth a thousand words —
one very special picture.
The pastel-and-watercolor painting
based on the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, revealed to Juan Diego
475 years ago Dec. 12, shows the Indian saint as a sorrowing child seeking a
mother’s comfort. Beneath the picture are the words Mary spoke to him during
the fourth and final apparition:
“Listen. Put it into your heart,
my smallest child, that the thing that frightened you, the thing that afflicted
you is nothing: Do not let it disturb you. … Am I not here, I who am your
mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your
joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you
need something more?”
Healing and Hope
Those words can help women who have
had abortions and repented of them, and Clarissa Cincotta of Trumbull, Conn.,
who runs Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for post-abortion healing, places the holy
card on each woman’s pillow.
“I felt the picture would be very
healing for the women attending the retreat,” she said.
Artist Rosemary Mertz of Huntington Beach was
simply following the instructions of In the Arms of Mary’s president and
directors who commissioned her to do the painting. But as a year of preliminary
sketches and discussions went on, Mertz found herself transformed by the
“I was more and more coming to
understand that even though I’m a sinner, God loves me with a love that is
endless, so awesome, tender, and joyful,” Mertz said. “To know our Blessed
Mother is always there, loving perfectly — it’s just
beyond words. This picture definitely came by God’s grace. I was just the
Some Catholics are looking for
ways to share that sense of joy and hope at Christmas. The In the Arms of Mary
holy card, enclosed with Christmas cards or gifts, could be one way to send a
message of the unconditional love of God. Both Spanish and English versions are
available. A donation of $5 for 100 cards is suggested to cover shipping costs.
A larger version, suitable for framing, is also available. The apostolate has
numerous books on the spiritual life, all with ecclesiastical approval.
And, as the war in Iraq continues,
the website AquinasAndMore.com has a way for people to send a Bible, prayer
book or holy medal to a soldier. Military chaplains have registered with this
online Catholic store, listing soldiers’ requests. Items range in price from
Divine Mercy holy cards (55 cents each) to Sterling Silver medals ($42). The
most requested item is a pocket New Testament ($6).
Then there’s a kind of giving that
can be a gift to two persons at once. Catholic Relief Services, the
international relief and development agency founded by the U.S. bishops,
has a “Work of Human Hands” catalogue with produce and products from farmers
and artisans in third-world countries. When someone in America purchases coffee from Ethiopia or terra cotta Nativity sets from Peru, he can
help disadvantaged artisans, farmers and farm workers in undeveloped and
underdeveloped countries receive fair compensation.
Food for the Poor, based in Deerfield Beach, Fla.,
and Heifer International, in Little
Rock, Ark., also have
gift catalogues. But instead of ordering products to give to friends, donors
send money for projects or animals to benefit the poor. The gift-giver makes
the donation in honor of a friend or loved one, and the agencies send gift
cards stating that a donation was made in that person’s honor. The gifts “keep
on giving, as in the case of wells and water pumps that Food for the Poor
installs in villages, or farm animals that Heifer sends to poor families.
Daria Sockey is based
in Venus, Pennsylvania.
A Way to Give Christmas Hope
Arms of Mary Foundation