Yesterday I took an hour bus ride to Montserrat, the name for both the mountain and Benedictine Monastery that sits about half-way up the mountain. The views of the serrated rock formations all around the monastery and the landscape below are fascinating. But what brings millions of pilgrims each year to this place is La Moreneta, the Black Madonna.
Centuries ago, local villagers found a wooden statue of Mary in a nearby mountain cave. She was holding the Christ Child on her lap and an orb in her right hand. Through the centuries many miracles were reported due to her intercession and she has come to represent the strength and struggles of the Catalan people. Within the Basilica is the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat. People will stand in line for hours to touch the orb and receive her blessing.
As I wondered the lovely grounds and gazed at the scenery, I thought about what has brought millions of people to this place through the centuries. I suspect that veneration, respect, curiosity, and hope for a blessing all play a part. People respond to religious icons by wanting to see and touch them.
But then I began thinking about non-religious icons in America. Our sports heroes, actors, rock stars, and famous people from all fields have their “pilgrims” too. We’ll line up for an autograph or to have our picture taken with them. We’ll follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps we think some of their power and mystique will rub off on us if we can get close to them. We even build museums or place their belongings for public display. Although not spiritually-motivated, is our American way of treating the famous so very different? What do you think?