There it was in headlines. The president of Colombia -- a national political leader -- declaring that the Blessed Virgin Mary had interceded to halt an imminent military conflict.

Not since leaders in the Philippines pointed to her role in conflicts there had such a major leader made such a dramatic statement.

But there was President Alvaro Uribe stating (in a newspaper called El Tiempo) that earlier in March, when it looked like Ecuador and Venezuela would wage war on Colombia (for crossing borders to fight Marxist guerilla terrorists), he invoked Mary under her patroness titles for all three countries, which led, he believes, to a peaceful settlement.

It was a development rich with insight into the many possible disasters that could reach mankind but for her intercession. How many others have been stopped? How many knew that Ronald Reagan -- a Protestant -- had a statue of the Blessed Mother?

In the case of Venezuela -- whose leader, Hugo Chavez, vowed to crush Colombia, and who has rattled sabers too against the United States -- it was especially loaded with potential implications in that the late Maria Esperanza, Venezuela's most famous mystic [see photo with Pope at bottom], once stated (obliquely, alluding to some future event) that "it will start here."

Indeed, the patroness invoked for Venezuela, said president Uribe, was the Virgin of Coromoto, after whom Esperanza named one of her daughters. Meanwhile the patroness invoked for Colombia was Our Lady of Chiquinquirá [left] and that for Ecuador Our Lady of Mercy.

Our Lady of Chiquinquirá has its miraculous origins as a painting by a Spanish artist that was damaged by exposure to the elements but was said to have self-healed. "On Friday 26 December 1586 the faded, damaged image was suddenly restored," says an index of saints. "Its colors were bright, the canvas cleaner, the image clear and seemingly brand new. The healing of the image continued as small holes and tears in the canvas self-sealed. It still has traces of its former damage, the figures seem brighter and clearer from a distance than up close. For three hundred years the painting hung unprotected. Thousands of objects were touched against the frail cotton cloth by pilgrims. This rough treatment should have destroyed it, but it healed and survives. Pope Pius VII declared Our Lady of Chiquinquirá patroness of Colombia in 1829, and granted a special liturgy."

Our Lady of Mercy also has its origins in Spain, during Muslim invasions. At that time, it is said, Mary appeared in a vision to a young nobleman and urged the formation of a military fraternity that would rescue prisoners by means of ransom. Our Lady of Mercy is specifically patron of Ecuador's military.

And then there is Coromoto in Venezuela.

In 1651 or 1652, it is said, Mary appeared to a Cospe Indian chief and his wife near a shallow ravine with a smooth-flowing stream as a beautiful woman gliding over the water. The mysterious female spoke to the chief in his own language and told him to go see the missionaries and be baptized.

The chief did not end up doing so and on September 8 he was resting in his hut when the lovely woman appeared there near the Guanare River, rebuked him for missing his baptism, and when the chief became angry -- reaching for his bow -- a flash of light temporarily blinded him. Mary disappeared but news of the event led to conversions in Venezuela.

Such are but a few instances of major apparitions and miracles attached to the Blessed Mother in South America -- occurrences that are all but known to North America and yet have played a major role in the history of Western Christianity. In 2003, a statue of Coromoto allegedly wept oil.

As for president Uribe, quoting Fr. Julio Solórzano, Chaplain of Colombia’s Presidential Palace, El Tiempo revealed that on March 5, when the rhetoric and blames between the presidents was increasing tensions, President Uribe called for a Rosary to pray for the end of tensions.

"Uribe invited all officials at the Presidential palace to the Rosary, as well as the minister of Defense and the Interior," says a report.

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