And how she relates to the Olympics?
Every two years, you can find me glued to a television, absolutely obsessed with the Olympics. I watch every event I can, obsess over the backstories, and commentate like I didn’t just Google skeleton to find out what it is.
Inevitably, during the two weeks out of every four years that I care about such things as snowboard halfpipe, I find myself caring rather a lot about the snowboarders as well. I talk about how fun Chloe Kim is like she’s a good friend, even though I hadn’t heard her name till last week. Somehow, I start to love these athletes.
And it’s not just the American athletes, either. I was so proud of Yun Sung-Bin when he became the first South Korean ever to medal in a Winter Olympics in something other than skating. I’m counting down the days till I can watch Evgenia Medvedeva compete again. There’s something about the Olympics that just expands our hearts, giving us room to love people—for a week—whom we’ll never meet.
Of course, I’ve got an eagle eye for anything Catholic. When Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu crossed himself as he took the ice, I was checking his religious affiliation before he even started skating. When I learned that the ritual is just part of his routine to remind him to “check his axis” before a jump, I wasn’t surprised to hear that Hanyu isn’t Catholic—only 0.35 percent of Japanese are, after all.
And yet, in one of the least Catholic countries in the world, there is an image of a Japanese Madonna, Our Lady of Akita. There where she is so little loved, she has reached out to her children to remind them that as Queen of Heaven and Earth, she is their queen, whether they are Christians or not.
Japan isn’t, of course, the only country where Mary has appeared in the image of her children. Mexico has only four athletes participating in this Olympics, but can boast instead the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where the Blessed Mother told Juan Diego—and through him all the indigenous people of the Americas—“Am I not here who am your mother?” Not just the mother of Jesus, not just the mother of the white man, the mother of everybody.
Whether or not the Chinese athletes know it, Our Lady of China appeared during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. In paintings, she is dressed as a Chinese empress, holding the Chinese Christ child. And though the two Indian athletes competing in PyeongChang might not be Catholic, their 20 million Catholic compatriots look to Our Lady of Vailankanni, a woman in a golden sari, as their mother and queen.
Naturally there are French and Italian and Portuguese apparitions of Mary. English and German, too. She even came to Wisconsin as Our Lady of Good Help. And many countries without an approved Marian apparition still have Marian devotions that are all their own, often with miracles associated.
The Irish Madonna is a statue improbably located in Hungary, with centuries of miracles to its name. Our Lady of Kazan has been revered in Russia for centuries. There are dozens of Marian titles in Latin America. And who can forget the Polish love of Our Lady of Czestochowa?
The more one dives into the rabbit hole of Marian devotion, the more one begins to see the common theme: Mary is the mother of everybody. She brings her son to every continent, to people of every race, religion, and social class. When Jesus gave his mother to the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross (John 19:26-27), he was giving her to every person ever to live, as their mother.
So this Olympics, I’m watching a little bit differently. Of course, I know that all people are called to be saints, that God desires that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). And I try to see everyone that way, as souls desperately loved by God—even when they cut me off in traffic or crash into my favorite speed skaters.
But it never quite occurred to me that Mary is the mother of each of these athletes. That if she were sitting next to me, she would be just as thrilled for a Norwegian to win as for Jessie Diggins. That she loves every one of these athletes even more than I love Maame Biney.
This is what I’m practicing these Olympic games: trying to love all these athletes as Mary, Mother of Everybody does. And after another week of training in virtual love, I’ll see if I can do the same thing in real life: love as Mary loves. It’s a challenge of Olympic proportions, but if these games convince me of anything, it’s that great glory is worth the fight.