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Coredemptrix Mediatrix Advocate

Towards a Papal Definition?
Book 2

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A Marian Dogma and Ecumenism

by Rev. Michael O’Carroll, C.S.Sp.

Fr. O’Carroll has written widely on theological and ecumenical topics and is an internationally known Mariologist. He is a member of the Pontifical Marian Academy, the French Society for Marian Studies, and an Associate of the Bollandistes.

If one extends the scope of this title to take in the world religions we get a theological panorama truly worthy of the one whose destiny concerns us. Let us begin with a brief survey of personalities. Because Catholic doctrine and devotion centred on Our Lady are known to cause problems for our separated brethren in the West, one would expect Catholics committed to ecumenism to show a faint or muted interest in Marian theology, and to avoid altogether such ideas as Mary’s mediation. With some highly committed and gifted individuals it has been the exact opposite.

The first important ecumenical initiative since the Reformation was the Malines conversations between Lord Halifax and Cardinal Mercier. They ended in an official vacuum, but they remain exemplary. Mercier was the one who launched a campaign to obtain a dogmatic definition of Mary’s universal mediation: he did secure a Mass and Office with this title and the establishment of three commissions to study the matter. His successor in the see of Malines-Brussels, Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens, was in his mould. In two works, The Theology of the Apostolate and Mary, Mother of God, he defended the doctrine of mediation; he was a principal support to the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as of the Charismatic Renewal Movement. His great moment was at Pentecost, 1975; he was patron to the International Charismatic Congress and Papal Legate to the International Marian Congress running concurrently.

Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, whose prayer is directed to Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, was one of those who initiated the first inter-faith society in Ireland since the Reformation, named The Mercier Society. Despite a prestigious membership, enthusiasm and erudition abounding, it was suppressed. When the Archbishop of Dublin sought instruction from the Holy Office he was told that one condition would have to be that the Protestants should not be allowed to defend their opinions. Society members were without bitterness then and triumphalism later when Vatican II fully endorsed the project. Friendships remained, for me among many, that with Bishop Richard Hanson, one of the greatest of recent patrologists, whose opus magnum, The Search for the Christian God, published after his death, was dedicated to a French Jesuit, Fr. Crouzel. To the names of the Catholic Marian and ecumenical specialists, should be added that of a great Bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, Marius Besson. His beautiful book on Our Lady had been preceded by two ecumenical works which have been shamefully neglected, La Route Aplanie and Après Quatre Cents Ans. He was the first bishop in Europe who ordered use of the words "nos frères séparés" in regard to Protestants. Looking beyond the Catholic communion, one should consider Sergius Bulgakov, ornament of the St. Serge Institute in Paris; of him we shall discuss later.

To address the main subject of this paper let us draw attention first to the materials available. Fr. Karl Balic, O.F.M., trained in scholarly research, as his edition of the works of Duns Scotus shows, first President of the Pontifical Marian Academy, edited before the Second Vatican Council, a massive work on Mariology and Ecumenism. It is invaluable. With it one should consult the reports of the round table conferences which marked the meetings of the International Mariological Congresses from Zagreb to Huelva (1971-1992). The excellent Claretian review, Ephemerides Mariologicae, brought out in 1992 a special issue on Mariology in Ecumenical Dialogue.

Let us begin with the Orthodox. There are two interesting references to Mary’s mediation. The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, on whose life and writings I am preparing a book, with his authorization, paid an official visit to the French hierarchy assembled in Lourdes. In the sermon on Our Lady which he preached he spoke of her mediation, as between us and the perfect mediation of Christ. The second reference pertains to an account of the apparitions of Our Lady at Zeitoun in Egypt, which were evaluated by the Coptic Patriarch. In the booklet relating the happenings, issued with his approval, is found a reference to our Lady’s mediation. No inhibition here, as it was taken for granted.

This is true to a great tradition. There are those in the West who think that the exponents of Our Lady’s mediation have been St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort and St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, with little thought of the Oriental Churches. From these the evidence is clear, overwhelming. Thanks to the work of the late, regretted John Meyendorff, we have been enlightened on the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) and the others of his time who are generally characterized as the Palamite theologians. Some quotation from Gregory is apposite. He saw Mary as central, with her divine Son, in the whole of creation:

Mary is the cause of what had gone before her, the pioneer of what has come after her; she distributes eternal goods; she is the thought of the prophets, the head of the Apostles, the support of martyrs, the certainty of doctors. She is the glory of earth, the joy of heaven, the ornament of all creation. She is the principle, the source and the root of ineffable good things. She is the summit and the fulfillment of all that is holy.

Gregory’s idea of Mary’s mediation is not open to doubt or question. It is implicit in his theory of her destiny, her place in creation. It is made explicit:

No divine gifts can reach either angels or men, save through her mediation. As one cannot enjoy the light of a lamp....save through the medium of this lamp, so every movement towards God, every impulse towards good coming from him, is unrealizable save through the mediation of the Virgin. She does not cease to spread benefits on all creatures, not only on us men, but on the celestial, incorporeal ranks.

Let us look at the other members of the Palamite quartet. Isidore Glabas (d.c. 1397) carried Byzantine praise of Mary to its loftiest peak—beyond the permissible limit, his critics would say. For him Mary was at the centre of the universe. He thought that all that was and is and will be came into being because of her. With his daring exaltation of her went naturally an affirmation of her important role in our salvation: "And truly the Virgin, without doubt was for all a cause of restoration to a better state." Because of her, God freed the human race from the sentence of condemnation, and man reached the likeness of God. Through her our regeneration is accomplished. No one approaches the Father save by the new Offspring; no one approaches him save through his Mother.

The Mariology of Nicholas Cabasilas (b.c. 1320, d.c. 1396) is known to us since the great Orientalist, Martin Jugie, A.A., published his relevant homilies in 1926; he has been esteemed as a theologian of the Eucharist. He assumed the central tents of the Palamites: all creation is centred on the Incarnation. Mary he thought of as the "saint of saints" and said that "she opened the door of holiness to others, being excellently prepared to receive the Saviour." His comment of the Annunciation is very forceful:

The incarnation of the Word was not only the work of the Father, of his power and of his Spirit, but was also the work of the will and faith of the Virgin; without the consent of the Immaculate One, without the contribution of her faith, this was as unrealizable as without the intervention of three divine Persons themselves.

Eve, Cabasilas thought, helped Adam, but Mary helped God. She was his most suitable cooperator. "Being assumed as a helper, not simply to contribute something as one of those moved by another, but that she should give herself and become the fellow-worker (sunergos) of God in providing for the human race, so that with him she should be an associate and sharer in the glory which would come from it." He makes it clear that the partnership should be "in all the sufferings and affliction. He, bound on the Cross, received the lance in his side; the sword, as divinely inspired Simeon foretold, pierced her heart."

Cabasilas says that Mary was our Advocate with God before the Paraclete came. He ends the third homily with an epilogue which glorifies her as salvation of men, light of the world, way to the Redeemer, co-cause with Christ, the cause of our sanctification.

We now come to the greatest of the Palamites in regard to Our Lady’s mediation, Theophanes of Nicaea (d. 1381). Fr. Martin Jugie, who introduced him to the scholarly world by publishing his Sermo in Sanctissimam Deiparam, thought him the greatest exponent of Mary’s mediation. He distinguishes two moments in creation, being in itself and well-being. The second, to which the first is designed, is achieved through divinization and of this the source is the Incarnation. Through the divine motherhood Mary is intrinsically bound with the entire reality. The first receptacle of the divine fullness is the assumed nature of the Saviour, all the fullness of the divinity. "But the living tabernacle which brought him forth is acknowledged as the second receptacle, that is receiving immediately from the first receptacle, the assumed nature of the Saviour, all the fullness of divinity."

Mary’s mediation thus rooted in the order of things is universal. "It cannot happen that anyone, of angels or of men, may come otherwise, in any way whatsover, to participation in the divine gifts flowing from what has been divinely assumed, from the Son of God, save through his Mother." Theophanes emphasizes the Trinitarian perspective, studying Mary in relation to each of the divine Persons: with the Father, whose mirror image and all-fair Spouse she is, she is linked by their common Son. While repeating that Mary and her divine Son each retain their identity, Theophanes elaborates powerfully the astonishing union between them, closer than any association described by western authors.

Born of sterile parents she was "from the orgin of her existence united to the Spirit, the author of life.....participation in the Spirit was for her participation in being and her conception was the image and type of the conception of her Son."

Theophanes surprisingly uses an image found in the West—Mary as the neck of the Mystical Body of Christ. "Since then," he writes, "the Head of every principality and power and of our Church is the only way that leads to the Father, so that sacred neck is the only way leading to the Head of all." As the fountain, the beginning of life "she receives wholly the hidden grace of the Spirit and amply distributes it and shares it with others, thus manifesting it." All things were created for her and are governed through her. No one attains the fullness and goal of life in Christ "without her cooperation or without the Spirit’s help."

Theophanes links the doctrine with that of the spiritual motherhood:

The Mother of him who through his unspeakable goodness willed to be called our brother is the dispenser and distributor of all the wondrous gifts of the divine Spirit, which make us Christ’s brother and co-heirs, not only because she is granting the gifts of her natural Son to his brothers in grace, but also because she is bestowing them on these as her own true sons, though not by ties of nature but of grace.

Germanus in the East before him, Bernard, Bernardine or Grignion de Montfort in the West, have not been anymore explicit than this on Mary’s universal mediation. Political vicissitudes would affect continuity of doctrine in the Orthodox East. In the fifteenth century, however, one name stood out, that of George Scholarios (d. after 1472), a student of western theologians, involved in the conciliar search for unity. On the question of Mary’s mediation we may quote such words as these:

How should you not be blessed, you who not only completely escaped the iniquities of the first curse, but will deliver others from these iniquities....And as the same of the curse taking its origin from a woman brought ruin to human nature, in the same way now through you the treasure of blessing will be shared with others and you will become the seed of a new life and the beginning of men truly worthy of the name.

Scholarios says that "she cooperated with God in giving us eternal life, filling the role of an appropriate instrument."

What of modern Orthodox teaching? Officially things hardened in regard to the dogmas, especially of the Immaculate Conception; about the Assumption, mostly supported by eastern testimonies from the early centuries, there was dissatisfaction with the refusal to affirm the death of Our Lady, as well as a certain irritation at Catholic dogmatic pronouncements.

To find Orthodox theologians committed to Marian theology one should look at the teachers of the St. Serge Institute in Paris. Let us briefly look to a giant among them, Sergius Bulgakov (d. 1944) and take note of an Orthodox theologian in Romania. It is important to note that liturgical and personal prayer to the Theotokos have never waned, do not depend on systematic theology, nor does one have to recall the immense role of the Icons.

Bulgakov linked his theology of Mary with his sophiological outlook and sees with it her special relationship with the Holy Spirit:

The Annunciation was a complete and therefore hypostatic descent of the Holy Spirit and his entry to the Virgin Mary...By his coming into the Virgin Mary the Holy Spirit identifies himself in a way with her through her God-motherhood...He does not at all leave her after the birth of Christ, but remains forever with her in the full force of the Annunciation.

In one work he is almost carried away and thinks that the limits of the creature are passed in the deification of Mary; her life of grace is the hypostatic life of the Holy Spirit. In The Wisdom of God however, he rejects the idea of an incarnation of the Holy Spirit and says: "He abides, however, in the ever-Virgin Mary as in a holy temple, while her human personality seems to become transparent to him and to provide him with a human countenance."

The Russian expatriate sees Mary as our Mediatrix: "Living in heaven in a state of glory the Virgin remains the Mother of the human race for which she prays and intercedes. She covers the world with her veil, praying, weeping for the sins of the world; at the Last Judgment she will intercede before her Son and ask pardon from him." All this derives its value "from her Fiat, repeated on Calvary and from her unique relationship with the Spirit."

A committed ecumenist, member of Faith and Order, Bulgakov insisted on the importance of thinking on Our Lady.

Protestantism differs in almost equal measure from both Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Love and veneration for the Virgin is the soul of Orthodox piety, its heart, that which warms and animates its entire body. A faith in Christ which does not include his virgin birth and the veneration of his Mother is another faith from that of the Orthodox Church.

He saw the Old Testament as a preparation for "a holy humanity worthy to receive the Holy Spirit, that is worthy of the Annunciation in the person of the Virgin."

A little more recently than Bulgakov a nonagenarian Romanian theologian, Professor D. Staniloae expounded the mediation of Our Lady, giving her also the title Praying One. We are faced in the Orthodox world with a dislike of dogmatic statements, a large question which we can scarcely deal with here.

With the massive Orthodox testimony which I have briefly reviewed, it is deeply regrettable that the drafting commission of Chapter VIII, Lumen Gentium ignored it. When the great Orientalist, Antoine Wenger, A.A., submitted a memo on the importance of the mediation in the eastern Church, he was "called to moderation" by the secretary, Ch. Moeller. All this is doubly regrettable since the rapprochement with Rome was initiated by Athenagoras and continued by his successors, Dimitrios and Bartholomaios, in the ecumenical patriarchate. We are sister Churches since the lifting of the excommunication and anathemas in 1965; John Paul II is making gigantic effort to achieve unity, hoping that in the third millennium the Church (he uses the singular) will breathe with its two lungs.

Ecumenism must also take account of the Christians in the West separated from us since the sixteenth century. What is the hope of a sympathetic reception from their official and theological representatives for a dogma on Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate? I speak from long experience of dialogue with Protestants, as well from Protestant family relations. There are extremes to avoid. One is doctrinal compromise. This was responsible for the regrettable silence of Vatican II on St. Joseph. Though strictly relevant to many problems on the conciliar agenda—the theology of work, the dignity of marriage, the call to holiness, the Church and the Jews and especially the vocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Under the influence of some periti the great Saint was ignored. In the 100,000 words of conciliar documents his name occurs once, in a quotation from the Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayer I.

Were Protestants impressed? Let us look to two not insignificant sources. Karl Barth was asked did he have the same reservations about St. Joseph as about Our Lady. "Not at all" he replied; "I love St. Joseph. I rejoiced when John XIII inserted his name in the Roman Canon. I intend to ask Paul VI to give him prominence," and then a memorable word, "He protected the Child; he will protect the Church." More radically direct was the very sharp criticism of the Marian text by J.J. von Almen of Neuchatel University, Pastor of the Swiss Reformed Church, who held that the Council had no right to eliminate St. Joseph. He was the guarantor before Israel of the messianic tradition and he is the model of male sanctity as is Our Lady of female holiness.

No, compromise does not win support. Yet this other extreme has to be avoided as well: a kind of ruthless disregard for the religious traditions and sensitivity of Protestants. This calls for patience, honesty and humility. Five Catholic theologians, including this author, were invited to investigate and report on doctrinal and devotional attitudes towards Our Lady in the different Christian communions in Ireland; we were to work with five ministers from the separated Churches. It was found that total honesty was possible with increasing trust and friendship. Invocation of Mary, based on the assumption of her intercession was the difficulty, as was the Unus Mediator text. This difficulty also occurred in the round-table meetings at the International Mariological Congresses.

What can be done? Emphasis must be given to the teaching of Vatican II which in dealing with Mary’s mediation insists on its inner harmony with that of Christ: "the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise among creatures to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this unique source."

Much of the polemics in regard to biblical Marian texts is conditioned by a) a lack of a sense of mystery which leads to ultra-literal interpretation, and b) a legalistic tendency towards limitation, rigid categories. The phrase Per Mariam ad Jesum is feared by some as if Mary were an intruder, an obstacle on the way to Jesus.

The Orientals have been free from these restrictions. They do not interpret the work of salvation in a legalistic sense, but insist on divinization as its core. One would hope that in the years ahead the influence of the Orthodox would be felt in the separated communions of the West. It would benefit all of us for two reasons. The Orthodox have remained steadfast in their traditions and they are profoundly attentive to the Holy Spirit. One notices that in Orthodox sanctuaries there has not been the ejection of the icons, as we have witnessed in regard to images and statues of Our Lady in Catholic churches.

Secondly, we should hope that the Orthodox would stimulate still more profound awareness of the Holy Spirit and greater fidelity to his inspiration and impulse. Notice how as by instinct Theophanes linked Mary’s mediation with the Holy Spirit, how Sergius Bulgakov sought to probe the mystery of the Spirit and Mary. As the fourth session of Vatican II was approaching, a Greek theologian, Nikos Nissiotis, issued a challenge to the assembly. In a resounding article he said in summary: if you do not teach more about the Holy Spirit, your documents will have little or no impact in the Orthodox world. Attempts were made in the fourth session to remedy things. But after the Council Paul VI appealed to preachers and theologians to add a theology of the Holy Spirit to the theology of the Church and theology of Our Lady elaborated by Vatican II.

At the International Mariological Congress in Huelva in 1992 Fr. Ignace de la Potterie, S.J. said that the Catholic Church had gone through a "decade without Mary," a touch of hyperbole, he most likely would admit. It is reasonable to assume he was thinking of the lean years from the end of the Council to Marialis Cultus from Paul VI, 1974. But in that decade the search for enlightened devotion to the Holy Spirit was afoot. What could have been expected happened. Entry into the mystery of the Holy Spirit confronts us with mystery of Mary. Were this author asked to suggest a theme from which this congress would move forward, it would be the theme of the Holy Spirit.

Let us delay on this proposal. We are on the threshold of a mighty manifestation of the Spirit of God. Theology is being renewed and the devotional life of the faithful deepened under his inspiration and influence. It is not necessary here to enter into details about the Charismatic Renewal Movement, nor to survey the numerous apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary currently reported, some of them already evaluated favourably. They are not evidence that Our Lady is taking over the Church; they are essentially evidence of charisms bestowed by the Spirit. Note that the one who, in the wake of Vatican II, emphatically teaches the doctrine of charisms, insisting that they are especially found among the laity in our time, is John Paul II; this he has done in Christifideles Laici and in several public discourses, on one occasion urging acceptance of these "special graces" among members of the other Christian churches. It is a fact that John Paul is, in teaching and practice, a Pope of the Holy Spirit. He has published more on the Third Divine Person than all his predecessors taken together. A revealing fact pertinent to the dogma in relation to ecumenism is this: Pius XI’s Encyclical, Mortalium Animos, 1928, on this subject has not one single reference to the Holy Spirit; John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint, speaks of the Holy Spirit twenty one times.

The present Pope has also fully espoused the interpretation of the life and mission of Jesus Christ as a masterpiece of the Spirit: what Cardinal Congar once said. "There is no Christology without pneumatology; no pneumatology without Christology." The "Forgotten Paraclete" spoken of by Mgr. Landrieux in 1921, was forgotten even in the theology of Jesus Christ. We fortunately are enlightened.

We should also be enlightened in regard to Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate by penetrating the meaning of each in the light of the Holy Spirit. I would hope that this would help to break down barriers between us and the Churches of the Reformation. It would help to dissolve a mind-set; it would lift the whole problem out of a polemical hardened enclosure, focusing attention on God, and possibly satisfying the Protestant demand, Deus solus, Christus solus, Fides sola. Nor must it be forgotten that change does occur. Hans Asmussen was one of the few Protestant theologians to write on Our Lady (with Max Thurian and Neville Ward among a few others). He expressed his readiness to accept Mary’s mediation "in Christ." The great patrologist, Richard Hanson, gave a rather conservative Protestant lecture at the International Congress of the ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dublin, 1984. He was received with the utmost courtesy and sensitivity, and leaving the Hall he said to me, "You’ve given me food for thought." This he put in writing later.

In dealing with the separated Churches of the Reformation we should not neglect history. Not many people know that Luther wrote a book on the Magnificat, that the Caroline divines kept Marian ideas alive during the seventeenth century. Finally it is important to conduct dialogue on the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, along the lines for example of the joint work, Mary in the New Testament, the work of American biblical scholars.

The idea of co-redemption does not occur explicitly in Orthodox writing, still less so in Anglican or Lutheran theology. It is widely known that the big task is to convince Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, and some Orthodox, that we do not mean equality by the prefix, "co.". It has been this author’s experience in pastoral work with Anglicans, that it is difficult to convince them that honour to Mary does not take something from Jesus. Most Protestants also do not accept the idea of consecration to Our Lady.

It would be well to enlarge the perspective of this paper to include the world religions. Vatican II gave us an example in this matter. It is fair to say that before the meetings in Rome no one would have foreseen the Declaration on the Church and the World Religions, nor on the sequel, the Pontifical Council headed by Cardinal Arinze. Allow me to offer some suggestions as the subject is vast and yet of prime importance. Our efforts to secure official recognition for Mary’s titles of Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate should not isolate us, in a kind of narrow theological ghetto apart from the genuine religious intuitions and trends throughout the world.

Let us begin with the most obvious call, that of the Jewish people. We are living through an unusual experience in the world of Catholic scholarship. We have discovered after two thousand years the most obvious thing about Jesus Christ: he was a Jew. At the inaugural address some years ago the American Catholic Biblical Association spoke of the Jewishness of Jesus as a challenge. There is a growing literature on the subject. But if we can now write, as I have done, "God became a Jew," how shall we interpret the life story and destiny of his Mother in strictly Jewish terms? It must have a relevance, even to this subject matter.

Then there is Islam. It may or may not be known that there are many exciting things in the sacred book, the Koran, on Mary. Vatican II stated that the Muslims "honour, the Virgin Mother of Jesus and at times they call on her with devotion." It may be known that a sentence in the Koran taken with a famous Hadith seems to imply the Immaculate Conception: "Every newly-born son of Adam is touched by Satan, save the Son of Mary and his Mother." This continues to be open to further research.

Those who wish to pursue the theme of Mary in comparative religion have an excellent guide in Jean (later Cardinal) Danielou’s study which appeared in the first volume of Hubert du Manoir’s encyclopedic work, Maria. He deals with a delicate subject: to what extent the cult of mother-goddesses prepared the way for Mary’s sublime role. It is certain that the most meaningful title of Mary, Theotokos, originated in Egypt. And here Christian thinking and verbal composition was influenced by the existence of the title Mother of God for Isis in regard to Orus; the adaptation was possibly first made in Coptic. The differences between Mary and Isis were well clarified: she was the "the handmaid of the Lord," the chaste Virgin whose Son was true God and true man, whereas Isis was seen as a goddess, one who conceived her Son in passion, entirely removed from the mysterious destiny of the Incarnationa.

This certainly represents a light sketching of subjects which demand a vast canvas. I do want to suggest strongly that we must open out the perspective in which we contemplate the Marian dogma; we must give it cosmic dimensions to show the validity of the words "all graces" and the relevance of the Council’s statement: "She was exalted by the Lord as Queen of all, in order that she might be more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Apoc 19:16), and the conqueror of sin and death."

In facing honestly the ecumenical situation I would like to say that I retain strong hope for this very reason. It was St. Augustine who first used the title "Mother of Unity" (Mater Unitatis) in regard to Our Lady. There are signs of change in the separated churches of the West; in a church in a Scandinavian country, probably for the first time, a statue of Our Lady was set in place. Walsingham, the English shrine of Our Lady is ecumenical in character. Feminism of the authentic type will orient thought towards the model of female greatness and virtue. It was a nineteenth-century rationalist, W.E. Lecky, who saw Our Lady as the one who significantly molded medieval culture in its greatest moment. One of the two most beautiful pieces of sculpture in London is "The Mother and Child," in Cavendish Square, work of the Jewish sculptor, Jacob Eppstein. Fr. Rene Laurentin has published, years after the war, the magnificent tribute to the Mother of God composed in a prison camp for Catholic priests by Jean Paul Sartre, known as an atheist, Sartre allowed the publication. I have utter confidence that the "Woman adorned with the Sun" will manifest her dignity and especially her power to our friends in the other communions.


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