Under the shade and enfolded in the spreading limbs of the giant Lillipilly Australis, you will find Our Lady of Grace. The immaculate Conception invites all to pause and rest here, savouring her gentle and motherly care for us.
Eritrea, located on the western coast of the Red Sea, won its independence as recently as 1993. Its history pans back to the 4th century as the gate for Christianity to the African continent and later (7th century “Hegira”) as a refuge for the first disciples of the founder of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed. This Red Sea nation of 3.7 million has its recent history marked by a 30-year war of independence from Ethiopian occupation (1961 – 1991).
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Graces, called by locals as Mariam De’arit, is located in a valley North of the city of Keren. A striking feature of the sanctuary is that the statue of Our Lady is located three metres high within the hollow trunk of an ancient Baobab tree.
Many stories of miracles are told of Mariam De’arit. The most significant, however, is the role Mary played in the life of the people during the bitter struggle for independence. Thousands sought Mary’s support during those dark years when the world’s big powers chose to ignore the plight of the people and when the land became the burial ground of countless young people. There is one sad event that stands out in the memory of the people. In 1970 a massacre occurred in Ona, a village close to the sanctuary. In the aftermath, people went to Mariam De’arit, a true sanctuary and witnessed of their plight to pour out their tears to her. Indeed she was a sign of hope, courage, and the continuity of life.
Dear pilgrim, the statue of Our Lady residing in a tree is a symbol of Mary “tree of life” whose fruit is Jesus, the Lord of our individual and collective history. Come and be refreshed under her shade and ponder on God’s amazing nearness to your life.
(Donated to Marian Valley by the Eritrean Community of Brisbane Qld)