Jaffa: Tota pulchra es Maria | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Jaffa: Tota pulchra es Maria

There is a corner in the garden of the Jaffa convent with a small statue of the Madonna. About twelve years ago, in the time of Fr. Abdel Masih, some Arab-speaking faithful of the parish decided to build this small sanctuary to the Mother of God.

In all sincerity, I have to say that I have always considered the taste of this corner left a lot to be desired. The work was done too simply, without the right proportions and it was not finished off as it should have been. Although I have been the parish priest for seven years, I have never had the courage to get down to renovating it. I have always been reluctant to ruin the character of this small sanctuary, which is a place where everybody can come and halt in prayer, especially when the church is still closed.

The particularity of this small “sanctuary” is that the faithful can get so close to the Virgin Mary as to touch her with their hands. There is a small fence in front of the shrine to protect the statuette, which actually are more like the grating of a confessional, where everyone can open their hearts to the Blessed Virgin, for the Indians and to Mamma Mary for the Filipinos. They share with her all their worries, suffering, anxieties and, trustingly await, if not the solution, at least the gift of spiritual strength to bear their burdens.

The small statue is not beautiful at all! But it is sweet and greatly venerated. It is not like the one in the church, which is very beautiful but distant. This one is within everybody’s reach, like a real mother. She is always there. There is no danger of being told off in some way by the people who keep the church clean and tidy. The statue is covered in a small dress, a filial attention by some worshipper, to make it a little prettier and above all more dignified. I am sure that the Virgin Mary, through this image of her, has bestowed much grace. Mamma Mary in the garden is also a safe meeting place known to all the faithful, Arabs, Indians, Filipinos and Africans. Many wait for the end of the mass in progress to follow the next one in a language they understand in this corner of the garden where it is also lovely and cool thanks to the eucalyptus that grows nearby. They do not like to go straight into the church and disturb the worshippers who are praying there. In the evening, especially on Saturdays, the candles placed in front of the small shrine, like a grotto, remain alight, reminding the Madonna of the wishes of these poor people and their needs. Prayer continues.

Together with Catholics, many Hindu women from India and Buddhist women from Sri Lanka also come. When I ask them how they can pray to the Virgin Mary if they do not believe in Christianity they answer: “We pray to the Madonna and she helps us. This is what is important for us and we respect and love her.” Well, the ways of the Lord are truly infinite! Today someone came to clean the small sanctuary, just as once daughters in turn would go and clean and tidy up their mothers’ homes.

Fr. Arturo Vasaturo ofm
Headmaster of the Terra Sancta secondary school