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(Images and meditations) Make a virtual retreat where Mary calls you, “Come!”

Malta's national shrine

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Cilia ©

Rev. Gerard Buhagiar - Jean Pierre Fava - published on 11/04/21

From what is now Gozo's national shrine, Our Lady called, "Come! Come! Come!" Now she invites you.

(This article was written by Rev. Gerard Buhagiar, rector of the Ta’ Pinu Shrine, and Jean Pierre Fava from the Malta Tourism Authority)

The beginnings of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Ta’ Pinu are so ancient that they are lost in the mist of time. The original local church was a small chapel, known as Ta’ Ġentile (Of the Gentile),dedicated to the Assumption.

Very recent studies by Joseph Bezzina, published in his book Santa Marija ta’ Gentile – The early history of Ta’ Pinu National Shrine, show that it dates back to the beginning of the 15th century. The name Ta’ Ġentile was dropped and the church became known as Ta’ Pinu (Of Pinu, or Philip) – named after Pinu Gauci, who had become the procurator of the church in 1598.

Eventually, due to the happenings of 1883, the modest unknown chapel in the countryside became a revered Marian shrine, visited by droves of Gozitans, Maltese and people beyond the sea! Indeed, a few years later, the decision was taken to build a worthy sanctuary, in honor of the Mother of God, to accommodate huge crowds – today’s Basilica.

A voice calls

On June 22, 1883, Karmni Grima from Għarb heard a call on her way home. At about 10.30am, a mysterious voice called her three times: “Come! Come! Come!

Karmni was astounded, because at that time of the day, the fields were deserted, and no one could have possibly spoken to her. When she resumed her way the same mysterious voice again told her“Come, come, today, because a year will have passed before you will be able to visit this place again.” 

So, she walked toward the chapel in awe, figuring that she would see the Blessed Virgin. On approaching the chapel, she peeped through the little aperture in the door pane but saw no-one. When she entered the chapel to pray, a feeling of ineffable rapture gripped her. …The same voice addressed her again: “Recite three Hail Marys in remembrance of the three days during which my body lay in the tomb” – and so she did.

For two years Karmni said not a word about what had happened. Then she disclosed her secret to Franġisk Portelli, an upright man who was renowned for his devotion to Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu. Amazingly, at about the same time, he had heard a mysterious voice asking him to say prayers in honor of Christ’s hidden shoulder wound caused by the weight of the heavy cross along the torturous path to Calvary.  A short time later, Franġisk’s mother was miraculously healed by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’ Pinu.

It was obvious that the matter could no longer be kept secret, and rumors that Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu had given a message to two persons from the village of Gharb began to spread like wildfire. Extant documents written by Karmni’s spiritual director also testify that the Blessed Virgin appeared to her even at her home in the village of Għarb. 

Today, Karmni’s home is open to visitors. Ta’ Pinu Marian Shrine is also known as “The Church of Miracles.”In fact, ex-votos literally cover the walls of two rooms on either side of the altar at Ta’ Pinu. These relate to cancers cured, babies born after years of infertility, horrific accidents resulting in completely healed patients, and many, many more amazing happenings and graces.

Malta's national shrine
The Pilgrim’s Monument.

A pilgrim’s way

In 2015, Ta’ Pinu  Sanctuary inaugurated The Pilgrim’s Way – comprising five niches containing frescoes, painted and donated to the Sanctuary by the prodigious Italian artist Sergio Favotto.

The niches are found on the final kilometer of the main road leading to Ta’ Pinu. Pilgrims can walk from one niche to another, stopping to meditate along the way. At the crossroads, just before this final kilometer, you come across the Pilgrim’s Monument, where the Blessed Virgin Mary herself indicates the Way to her Shrine. This monument represents Christ’s victory over death; a blessing from the first disciple and perfect pilgrim, Mary; a reminder of our dependence on Jesus Christ during our short pilgrimage on earth; our eternal destination; the Blessed Virgin’s heavenly queenship, and her invitation to Ta’ Pinu with the words “Come… Come…Come…” as she said to Karmni Grima. Mary shows us that she walks before us towards Heaven.

Every fresco represents concrete ways the Blessed Virgin Mary shows her motherly love for us. I [Rev. Gerard Buhagiar] also suggest Scripture, reflections and meditations for every stop on the Pilgrims’s Way, which were published on the inauguration of The Pilgrim’s Way in 2015. 

Following is an abridged version of this pilgrimage, which you can do in your  home, church or any other quiet place of your choice, or perhaps, one day you may feel inspired to come on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu and pray with us.

11st stop: Help of Christians

The Virgin Mary…

… Help of Christians. Mary, “…clothed in the Sun…” [Rev. 8:1] presents Jesus to the contemplative Church (the monk on her left) and the active church (the elderly man on the right), forming the ideal pyramid. The persons depicted form a circle around the Child, like a human tabernacle. A pilgrim is he who lays his gaze on Jesus to follow Him. Read Luke 1:47-49

Malta's national shrine
Mary Help of Christians fresco.

Reflection: Mary’s life was full of joy; however, her life was also full of challenges and unknowns. Her inner peace came from an awareness of two fundamental truths: the Lord’s gaze upon her; and His generosity in working great things in her! This helped Mary on her pilgrimage of faith and to fulfill what God requested of her.

Do you feel exhausted, heartbroken and burdened? Disregard all this, and recall that God’s gaze is upon you too – not because you are perfect, but because you are His own! Indeed, He created you in His image. During the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to the Father with His disciples: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one”[Jn. 17:11]

Meditation: Like your Heavenly Mother, while experiencing God’s loving gaze, unburden your heart and ponder the great and beautiful graces God has granted you. Do not allow life’s challenges to become a veil between you and God’s gifts. If you are up for it, write down these gifts which are in you and around you. Your Mother Mary will help you in this and to praise the Lord. 

On your way to the next niche: “The Lord is on My side to help me…O Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast lave endures forever”[from Psalm 118]

22nd Stop: Solace of Sinners

… Solace of Sinners. The persons in this fresco form an inverted triangle. On one side we can see contrite penitents to whom Jesus offers His mercy, and on the other a catechumen  asking for baptism and an elderly sinner pondering whether he should ask for God’s forgiveness. This scene leads to the Virgin Mary’s throne of mercy. The Mother of Mercy embraces  Jesus, who with outstretched arms desires to embrace us. Read John 3:16-21. 

Malta's national shrine
Mary Solace of Sinners fresco.

Reflection: Are you burdened by your sins? Do you feel surrounded by darkness or harbour anger for those who offended or betrayed you? Do not lose heart. Lift up your gaze to the Throne of Mercy and reminisce that God did not send his Son to condemn you, but to rediscover forgiveness and peace through Him.

Enter the depths of your heart and listen to the comforting words Jesus announced to the adulteress, and also to you: “Has no one condemned you? …Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again”[Jn. 8:10-11]. Leave the darkness of sin, and approach the light of forgiveness: accept the Mother of Mercy’s guidance towards the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus, and allow her to help you rediscover the joy of God’s sweetness. 

Meditation: Look into yourself and seek what darkens your heart, your sins, and be not afraid to call them by name. Also remember the persons who may have trespassed against you, or perhaps those you have trespassed against – present them to Jesus and pray for them. 

On your way to the next niche:“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation”[Lk. 1:50]

33rd stop: Strength of the sick

… Strength of the Sick. This is an image of symbolic gazes. An elderly man fixes his gaze on Mary, who embraces an unconscious child, and a young woman who has lost faith in the medicines she is carrying. Another youngster gapes full of hope at the Morning Star. The message is clear: who welcomes the sick, welcomes Jesus. This is also represented by the “Pietà” in the background. Read John 19:25-27. 

Malta's national shrine
Mary Strength of the Sick fresco.

Reflection: The Lord is Mercy itself! Torn to pieces and burdened with our sins on the Cross, He not only offers His life, but also gives us His Mother as Our Mother – Jesus is telling you what he told Saint John, “Behold your Mother!” Like John, welcome Mary, and allow her to be your Mother, Teacher, and Guide.

When you feel life’s storms overwhelming you, and going down under a heavy cross, turn your gaze towards the Star — beseech Mary. She does not only listen to your plea, but stands beside you as she was at the foot of the Cross of Her Son Jesus — You are her child, too! She is with you and will help you fix your gaze on the Father, and, like her and Jesus, willfully proclaim: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

Meditation: In difficult times, offer your burdens to the Lord who took upon himself the suffering of humankind. Rather than focusing on your suffering only, remember what others are going through: the sick, medical doctors, nurses and all those in the healthcare professions – place them in Mary’s bosom. She who welcomed Jesus in her heart, will also welcome those who suffer — they are all her children, we are all her children!

On your way to the next niche:“Let it be with me according to your word!”[Lk. 1:38]; or “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”[Lk. 22:42]

44th stop: Queen of the family

… Queen of the Family. In the midst of the storm, the human family seeks protection and solace from the Holy Family, in the Sweetness of Mother Mary, and the strength of Joseph. All the persons depicted in this image form a solid organism, which is represented by the married couple holding hands, at the bottom. The Holy Child engages the beholder with His Divine gaze, full of tenderness and life. Read Luke 2:41-51.

Malta's national shrine
Mary Queen of the Family fresco.

Reflection: Like the Holy Family of Nazareth, the core of every family is the Child Jesus. However, families may lose sight of Jesus, because of sickness, exhaustion, selfishness, or the sin of a member of the family. Perhaps, sometimes, like Mary and Joseph, we do not understand Jesus’ words. Sometimes, we doubt like the disciples, “These words are hard! Who can listen to them?”[Jn. 6:60].

Despite all this, Jesus does not leave his family, but submissively returns to Nazareth with them. And what is Mary’s reaction? “She treasures in her heart” all these happenings and Jesus’ words — She ponders! 

Meditation: What is the center of your family’s life? Do you find time to talk to each other? Do you find time to talk to Jesus, even if at times He may seem “hidden”? Is Jesus’ love the basis of your own love? Does Jesus have a place in your family? 

On your way to the next niche: “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.”[Psalm 119:93]. “Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”[Psalm 128:1-3]

55th stop: Queen of peace

… Queen of Peace. In the last fresco we find a strong message: The Child Jesus with outstretched arms, in the form of a cross, is offering an olive branch which seems to be coming out of Ta’ Pinu Shrine. At the same time, the Child kneels with one leg to ask an abusive master to have mercy on his slave, while with the other leg He pushes away the sword and the shackles. Peace is the fruit of the sacrifice of the Cross, because collective peace comes from our own personal peace. Read John 20:19-21. 

Malta's national shrine
Mary Queen of Peace fresco.

Reflection: You are before the image of Mary Queen of Peace! A beautiful word which everyone yearns for! The Blessed Virgin reminds us that Her Son is the only source of peace. His peace is not the peace the world bestows. The world enslaves and dominates, while Christ liberates and gives life, by giving His life for us.

When we face adversity and bitterness, we tend to give up on peace, but this negativity disintegrates before the power of the Risen Christ. Jesus wants to give us His peace! Let us open our heart to Him and welcome it! 

Meditation: These are the last steps of your journey. Surely, many are the things you desire to say to the Lord. So, proceed to the Ta’ Pinu Shrine with a wide-open heart. Enter the Sanctuary and let your Mother Mary help you savor the love of God, who consoles, forgives and fills with hope. When entering, this can be attained by staying in silence, and by asking for God’s pardon through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and in this way celebrate with joy the meal Jesus Christ has prepared for you, the Eucharist. The Lord has done all this for you because you are His, you are His beloved. Be full of joy, as you enter the House of the Lord! 

On your way to the Shrine: “If you, o Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope: my soul wits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.”[Psalm 130:3-6] or: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with the lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”[Psalm 150]

Malta's national shrine
A panoramic view of The Way towards the Madonna Ta’ Pinu National shrine.

6Back home

Now that you have finished your pilgrimage, you leave the Shrine clothed in grace the Lord has poured upon you to show you His love. You are going back to your daily life. On your return, you will pass by the niches from the opposite direction. Probably, this time around you are not going to make any stop, however, the frescoes will remind you of your commitment.

As you go back to your life a new way unfolds before you. You opened your heart to God, experienced His pardon and love, and all the gifts showered upon you. But remember, the gifts the Lord has conferred are not limited to this pilgrimage, but should be shared with your neighbor. The Lord has been merciful to you, so you show mercy to others. Jesus is trusting you with a virtuous mission, because he has faith in you. Accept it with joy and be an instrument of his peace (Mary Queen of Peace). Like the Holy Virgin, be a bearer of Jesus in the world  (Mary Queen of Family). Be helpful to the sick and the suffering (Mary Strength of the Sick). Keep yourself and your brethren away from sin (Mary Solace of Sinners), and commit to foster respect, dialogue, forgiveness, love, peace and serenity (Mary Help of Christians). 

While helping you to be a humble servant of the Lord and of your brethren, the Blessed Virgin Mary accompanies you all the way to the House of the Father!

MaltaVirgin Mary
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