The month of May is dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the Catholic Church throughout the world.
Praying to Mary was natural for Korean Catholics after 95,000 North Korean Communists invaded the South in June 1950, with Russian tanks and ammunition. Our parish church in Pusan conducted countless prayer services for miracles, and even when the church turned into a refugee center and all services took place outside the church — under a canopy of tree branches — we clung to Blessed Virgin, our knees on bare dirt, hands folded, reciting, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace…”
More than six decades after the war ended, I believe that Our Lady heard all our innocent prayers, particularly when I watch the landscape of South Korea on TV — the busy highways, the skyscrapers and the streams of cars everywhere. Otherwise, how could that poor and helpless country not only have survived the Communist brutality but also become what she is today? Of course it was the Virgin Mary who sent her American angels to defend our country against the evil during those three grueling years between 1950-1953.
Today, many Catholic churches use “Our Lady” as the name of the church, to remember, to revere and to honor the Virgin who cured the sick, the crippled to walk, and the blind to see during and after apparitions. In the Kansas City area alone, there are Our Lady of Perpetual Adoration, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Guadelupe, Our Lady or Sorrows, Our Lady of Hope, and more.
It’s worth noticing that the newest church, Our Lady of Hope, sprang from Anglican Use Mass community that had been gathering at St. Therese Little Flower Church for more than five years before joining Our Lady of Sorrows in the Crown Center area for Sunday services last fall. Built by German Francescan Brothers in the late 1890s, Our Lady of Sorrows has her charm and beauty, with an interior lavishly adorned with colorful paintings and about 20 statues of the Holy Family, saints and angels, including Our Lady of Hope.
The congregation of Our Lady Hope consists of a small group of converts with Episcopal, Anglican and Methodist backgrounds guided by the Rev. Ernie Davis, the first Episcopalian priest ordained in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese in 2002 by the ate Bishop Raymond Boland.
The name “Our Lady of Hope” originated from the Virgin’s apparition in Pontmain, a small village in France, on Jan. 17, 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War. After six months at war, two thirds of France had been taken over by the Prussian troops, and 500 inhabitants of Pontmain feared the worst. On this particular winter night, the Virgin appeared on a farm, wearing a blue gown dotted with golden stars and a black veil under a golden crown. Though adults were present at the time, only two boys saw her and heard her messages “to pray.” That same evening, the Prussian forces inexplicably abandoned their advance to Pontmain, and eleven days later, the war ended.
To Veronica Miller, one of the youngest members of Our Lady of Hope, who was born in an Episcopalian family but attended Catholic schools throughout her life, including the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in New Hampshire, the Blessed Virgin is her “Heavenly Mother” she can rely on in her daily life. “Whether we should believe in the Blessed Mother has never been a question for me.”
We live on a borrowed time on earth. No one ever came back to life to tell us Heaven actually exists and what God looks like. Yet, through Our Lady’s countless apparitions and messages she has left each time, we’re able to glimpse heaven without doubts.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.