An icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa is currently on the North American leg of a worldwide tour. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Black Madonna in Canada

  • March 27, 2014

OTTAWA - Hundreds of people lined up to venerate, pray and touch an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the so-called Black Madonna, that was on display Mar. 18 at St. Patrick’s Basilica.

The icon entered Canada Mar. 17 — the 26th country it has visited — as part of a worldwide pilgrimage in defence of human life.

A faithful replica of the famed Our Lady of Czestochowa icon in Poland, the icon on tour is “written” in the traditional way and is liturgically united with the original, said Fr. Peter West, who is accompanying the icon on the Canadian and American leg of the pilgrimage. It has been touched against the original icon in Poland’s Jasna Gora Monastery and been blessed by the Archbishop of Czestochowa.

The tour launched from Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast in 2012. It made its way across Siberia and through Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, throughout Eastern and Western Europe to Portugal. The icon then travelled to the United States last August and will make stops in various North American cities over the next several months.

“Just as the Jews would bring the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle, so also we’re bringing the icon into the battle against the culture of death and to build a culture of life,” said West, an American priest who works out of Human Life International (HLI) headquarters in Virginia.

“We believe that every human being is a living icon, made in the image and likeness of God. Only God is the master of human life, only God has the power to give a human life and only God has the right to choose to take an innocent human life to Himself,” West said in an interview.

The icon was a gift given by the Polish branch of HLI to the Russian Orthodox pro-life movement. West said it was the Russians’ idea to launch the pilgrimage. As the icon passed through Russia, women who had had abortions “came up spontaneously to confess their sins of past abortions,” West said.

The Black Madonna’s firsts top in Canada Mar. 17 was at Our Lady of Czestochowa parish in Montreal, a Polish parish. Then it came to Ottawa for a special Mass at which Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast urged Catholics to become active in the pro-life cause.

The icon remained at St. Patrick’s Basilica as hundreds lined up to venerate the icon, pray before the image, touch it, or touch prayer cards or family icons to the image which depicts Our Lady and the Christ child.

“Many of us are timid about the life issues and witnessing to our faith because we live in a society that, according to the media and the bully pulpits in universities, is deeply convinced that we’re wrong,” Prendergast said. “But Christians have stood against the world in every age since the death and resurrection of Jesus.”

Prendergast also urged Catholics to fight efforts to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, because legal safeguards are impossible and “legislation to allow voluntary euthanasia or mercy killing would lead to widespread involuntary euthanasia, with many, perhaps a majority of those being injected lethally being subject to the procedure without their consent and many times against their will,” he said.

Prendergast urged Catholics to participate in the National March for Life in Ottawa May 9 as well as the National Week for Life being promoted May 11-18 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The image of Our Lady of Czestochowa — the Black Madonna — bears slash marks,” Prendergast said. “They are the residue of an historic act of vandalism, but they stand for Mary’s not being distant to all who struggle in the cause of life, to all who are pained by the prevalence of abortion, euthanasia and the culture of death.”

After all-night veneration at St. Patrick’s, the icon was taken in procession to Parliament Hill for the praying of the rosary and the final day of prayers of the Novena to St. Joseph. It was then brought outside the Morgentaler abortion facility for an hour before returning in procession back to St. Patrick’s.

The icon also visited Toronto and will be in Vancouver this summer, West said. More visits in the Midwestern United States and central Canada are being organized.

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