The Virgin of the Pillar
On January 2, 40, on the banks of the Ebro River, the Virgin Mary, still living in Palestine, came in mortal flesh to Zaragoza to comfort the apostle James (Santiago), accompanied by a small group of converts, who had been preaching all day. Mary left them a jasper column around which the Christians of the first century built, as a memorial, a chapel that was enlarged and remodeled over the centuries.
They say that when the Pope (St. John Paul II) came to this Shrine he said, “How small you are, but what a great influence you have!”Our Lady likes to be small, humble and hidden
God had planned for us to come here, in this square where the Basilica of the Pillar, one of the largest in Spain, is located. The Virgin of the Pillar is the patroness of Spain and you will see here an image of the Virgin on a pillar, because Pilar means pillar.
The ancient tradition says that when James came to evangelize Spain (because the Holy Spirit took him to “Finisterrae”, to the ends of the earth, as the Scripture says), he came accompanied by itinerants, by other apostles who in Zaragoza are called “apostolic men”.
If you enter the Basilica of the Pillar, you will see a stone painting where you can see James with the pilgrim’s staff, and with him are seven other men who accompanied him.
Tradition has it that James was discouraged, and that the Virgin came (God performed a miracle) and gave him courage to go on: something truly stupendous.
And as a sign of her coming to Zaragoza she left a column, a pillar that everyone venerates (behind the Virgin, it can be touched, people touch this Pillar; she left a memorial).
On this esplanade, on the banks of the Ebro River, this Basilica has been erected to the Virgin of the Pillar, whose feast day is October 12, the day of the discovery of America.
This Basilica makes present what the oral tradition says, how since the first evangelization, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his Ascension to heaven, Our Lady has accompanied the apostles in the midst of their difficulties, helping them not to lose heart even if they failed, because to evangelize means to fail. Man, humanly speaking, often gets discouraged, loses courage, and Our Lady comes to help him.
For this reason – and I say this as an ambiental admonition – it is wonderful to be here even if it is hot, even if we are uncomfortable, a sign and symbol of what it is to evangelize: one day we do not know where to sleep; another day we are fasting; another day you are rejected in a parish, or an area that does not welcome you…
It is the life of the apostle. God had chosen this place, where the Virgin meets Santiago and his itinerant companions, apostles, when they were already thinking of leaving in failure. And he encouraged them to evangelize Spain. It is a truly stupendous gesture of the Lord towards us.
This means that for this work, this task of evangelization of the third millennium, of the new generations, we will encounter many difficulties, much persecution, many problems, but here, Our Lady in this place tells us that she will help us. May this be like a pillar, like a Pillar in your apostolic life.
This place represents the failure, the difficulty, the setbacks, the problems that every apostle encounters. Why has the Lord summoned us here? Because in this place, Our Lady has helped and supported her companions.
The Virgin of Pilar venerated in Spain has a tiny image. The Virgin likes to be small, humble, hidden. For this reason, when she enters in procession we will sing “Mary, little Mary”.
Carmen’s words at the Vocational Meeting:
I am very happy that we are here, on the banks of the Ebro River, which for me is also a memorial of the presence of the Virgin Mary in my history.
I was born very close to here, and I have been drinking water from this river for 16 years, when there was still no mineral water. And I am very happy, because also my grandmother – all this area here is very devoted to this Virgin – had a clock that always sang “the Virgin Mary came in mortal flesh to Zaragoza”.
That is, before the Virgin Mary died, she accompanied the evangelization; And in view of the difficulties of St. James the Apostle, here with the Spaniards -and of this land, who are very stubborn, the Aragonese are very stubborn-, and in view of the fact that St. James the Apostle was discouraged to see all this, the tradition says that the Virgin Mary came here in mortal flesh, to Zaragoza (she had not yet made neither the Assumption, nor her death, nor anything…), that is, the Virgin always accompanied the evangelization of the apostles, since the death of Jesus Christ. I am very happy, because here Our Lady will be for you a Pillar, a true pillar in our life.
At the conclusion of the IV World Youth Day in 1989, convoked by St. John Paul II in Santiago de Compostela, Kiko and Carmen called the young people of the Way to a Vocational Meeting in Zaragoza on August 21, the eve of St. Mary Queen’s Day:
20,000 young people gathered in the Plaza del Pilar.