Pope's visit to Chile highlights devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

During his Apostolic Visit to Chile this week, Pope Francis has highlighted devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as "Our Lady of Mount Carmel", who is revered there as 'Patroness and Queen of Chile'.

The title "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" refers to Mary as she is revered in the Carmelite tradition. Carmelite spirituality places particular emphasis on Mary as she is presented in the Gospel as a woman of prayer and action who points to her son Jesus. Carmelites revere Mary as patron of the Order, and honour here under a number of titles including "Beauty of Carmel", "Sister", and "Woman of Most Pure Heart". The Carmelite devotion of the brown scapular - a small cloth garment worn in honour of Mary - has spread to millions of people worldwide.

The Holy Father, who comes from Argentina, is making his sixth pontifical visit to South America, where devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is widespread. The Pope's week-long Apostolic journey will take him to six cities in as many days in Chile and Peru.

Addressing Chile's president, government, civil organisations, and the diplomatic corps at the La Moneda Palace on 16th January, Pope Francis concluded his remarks by saying: "I pray that Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mother and Queen of Chile, will continue to accompany and bring to birth the dreams of this blessed nation."

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a key feature of Latin American Catholicism, and during the Holy Father's visit to Chile and Peru he is crowning two statues of Mary, venerating a third, and taking part in a Marian prayer service.

Pope Francis' first prayer service in Chile was a Mass for Peace and Justice in the nation's capital city of Santiago. The Mass was celebrated in O'Higgins Park, named after Bernard O'Higgins, one of the leaders of the movement to free Chile from Spanish colonial rule in the early nineteenth century. O'Higgins and his comrades vowed their fidelity to Mary and invoked her protection, promising that a shrine in her honour would be erected if Chilean troops won independence from Spain. Chilean troops wore the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and attributed their victory to Mary's intercession. In 1818 construction began on the national marian Shrine of Maipú, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Pope Francis will meet with young people there today (17th January).



Chile's National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Maipú.


During the Mass at O'Higgins Park, Pope Francis crowned a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. While many Catholic parishes and shrines around the world crown statues of Mary (especially with flowers in the month of May), placing a real crown on her head is a much more formal process requiring ecclesiastical permission. When permission is given — or the pope decides to crown a Marian statue himself — it means the image has proven to be important to the devotion of the local faithful, perhaps in connection with a miraculous history or site of pilgrimage.


Video of Pope Francis crowning the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.


Chileans have long enjoyed a relationship with Mary under the title of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel". In 1592 explorers came to Chile from Spain, a country with a strong devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and well-known Carmelite figures such as Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. The explorers were accompanied by Augustinians who found devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel helpful in spreading the Christian faith among the indigenous people. The first lay organization in Chile dedicated to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was created in 1648. In 1923, at the request of the Chilean bishops, the Vatican proclaimed the Virgin of Carmel to be the main patron saint of all Chileans (not only the military). The secondary patrons of the country are Saint James (after whom the capital Santiago is named), and Saint Teresa of the Andes, a Discalced Carmelite nun.

Addressing priests, religious, and seminarians in Santiago Cathedral on 16th January, and later the inmates in a women's prison, Pope Francis concluded by using a prayer common among Carmelites: "May Our Lady of Mount Carmel cover you with her mantle." In Carmelite art, Mary is often depicted wearing the white mantle or cloak of the Order, wrapping it protectively around those devoted to her.



Pope Francis revering the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Santiago Cathedral.


Members of the Carmelite Family gathered in Santiago Cathedral for the pope's visit.


On 18th January, in the northern Chilean city of Iquique, Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass in honour of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mother and Queen of Chile". During the Mass he will crown a statue of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel of Tirana". La Tirana is a village in the south of El Tamarugal province where annual Marian celebrations in mid-July draw approximately 200,000 people from across Chile, as well as neighbouring Peru and Bolivia. These celebrations have their origins in a pre-conquest indigenous procession carried out for the dead, which Christian missionaries adapted into Marian piety in the 1500s. According to legend, the site is where indigenous culture and Christianity came together in romantic tragedy. It is said that when the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors arrived in that part of Chile, they fought with the local tribe who were defending their forest from the colonisers. The tribal fighters were led by Ñusta Huillac, the ferocious daughter of an indigenous Inca priest, who killed or captured a number of conquistadors. Despite her reputation for being unfeeling and unbending, Ñusta Huillac fell in love with a Portuguese miner whom her warriors captured during a raid. Ñusta Huillac asked to learn about his religion, and when he explained about heaven, her heart was warmed by the idea of being able to be with her beloved for eternity. Ñusta Huillac eventually asked her beloved to baptise her, but for this apparent betrayal her fellow tribesmen killed her and the miner. The Christian faith must have taken root in the area, however, because some years later a missionary friar, Antonio Rodon, found a cross marking the spot of their execution, and erected there a chapel in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Pilgrimages to La Tirana began, and today Marian piety blends with costumes, music, and street dances inspired by the cultural traditions of the Andes, making the village home to one of the most important and popular religious festivals in all of Latin America. One of the distinctive traditions during the festival are dances. During "La Diablada", a malicious protagonist adorned with horns dances through the streets of La Tirana, but surrenders at the shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel who protects the place. Before the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is carried from the shrine in procession through the streets, the women of La Tirana perform the "Kullakas", dancing, singing, and weaving a colourful braid as they circle around a wooden pole.



The festival at La Tirana blends Marian piety (left: a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel being carried in procession) and indigenous culture (right: a dance with origins in Inca paganism)


Video of Chile's colourful La Tirana festival in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.


No doubt as Pope Francis travels in his native Latin America he will take some comfort from his devotion to Our Lady, since this visit has not been without controversy. The papal visit has generated considerable public protests from those scandalised by the Catholic Church's handling of historic clerical abuse. During his visit the Pope has met with abuse victims, apologising for their suffering in the name of the Church, and weeping alongside them.

Highlights of the trip are expected to include some less formal meetings with indigenous people and migrants in both Chile and Peru, as well as encounters with young people, members of the local Bishops' Conferences, and conversations with priests and religious. There will also be a more personal visit to the Jesuit Community at the St. Alberto Hurtado Shrine, in keeping with Pope Francis’ tradition of taking time off to catch up with his Jesuit brothers in the country he is visiting. Hurtado was a Chilean Jesuit who became the country’s first male saint when he was canonized by Benedict XVI (the first saint being the Carmelite Teresa of the Andes).