“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you … You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.’” Luke 1:26b-28, 31
I remember my first empowering glance of the “Black Madonna,” also known as Our Lady of Czestochowa, during my Pan-African classes in college. I have since appreciated that her image has historic importance during the Advent and Christmas season. Although this painted ionic image of Mary with Jesus is primarily associated with the Catholic and Orthodox church families, it is known throughout the world.
In 1979, during his first papal visit to Poland, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and said, “The call of a son of Poland to the Cathedral of St. Peter contains an evident and strong link with this holy place, with this shrine of great hope. ‘Totus tuus (I am all yours),’ I had whispered in prayer so many times before this Image.” In 2016, Pope Francis visited her image during the global World Youth Day gathering. The Shrine of the Black Madonna in Missouri and the image of Our Lady, Mother of Ferguson and All Those Killed by Gun Violence were also inspired by the Black Madonna.
In this age of “Black Lives Matter” and deepening-Pan African global identity, the images of Blackness and African identity are being revisited. Unlike the ill-founded observations, arguments and faith perspectives that continue to demonize and minimize Blackness, Africans and people of African descent are revisiting and rewriting their histories and herstories regarding legacies like the Black Madonna. They understand that Blackness, Africa-relatedness, women and children have always mattered and continue to matter.
At the recent Pan African Women of Faith conference, co-hosted by Bread for the World, women affirmed this and advocated for justice with our Bread for the World legislative agenda. They advocated for the stimulus package this year. They brought their stories and lenses to the occasion. They embraced hope and prayed in the face of the adversities of COVID-19 and economic challenges.
At the same time, these women lamented loss and disproportionate health and economic consequences during this season. Many, like the Black Madonna, have sojourned and migrated with the threats of economic and health peril. Some, like Our Lady, Mother of Ferguson and All Those Killed by Gun Violence, have experienced violent governmental policies against them and have lacked appropriate shelter. Despite this, they gave thanks and expressed hope. May the Black Madonna and Holy Child be an inspiration to you as well in this challenging Advent and Christmas season.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.