by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI's Executive Director
I first encountered the Pietà at the Louverture Cleary School in Haiti in April 2017 during Mass at the school’s open-air chapel. The chapel had none of the frills we typically associate with Catholic Churches. There were no statues. No stained glass windows. No icons. A folding table draped with a white cloth served as the altar. The pews were backless wooden benches. There were no kneelers. No candles. No incense. No organ. Not even a piano. Heavy heated air overflowed with the smells of rotting waste. And in the distance, music rattled the sacred silence with a deep thump-thump base.
Sitting amid the sounds and smells of humanity, I looked up from my place on the wooden bench. The Pietà stared back at me. The image was painted on a wall that surrounded the school. I couldn’t stop staring at this beautiful divine woman (Mary) holding the crucified Jesus. In that moment, with Haiti’s harsh poverty seeping into the chapel, Mary looked like she was cradling and protecting Haiti and all the brokenness of our world. I saw love in her eyes, a mother’s love. And a mother’s protection.
A scaled replica of Michelangelo's Pietà sits on my bedroom dresser now, a gift from my husband. There are days when the brokenness of our world draws me to this image of Mary holding her son. I want to curl up in her lap and wrap myself in the folds of her dress. Maybe she would tell me a story or stroke my hair. Maybe she would hum a song as I napped. I can almost feel the warmth of being next to her, snuggled into the divine comfort of her arms and dress.
A more traditional interpretation of Michelangelo's Pietà is that Mary “presents to us the Body of Christ as a path to salvation.” She is offering us her son. Others say “there is a sense that the Madonna is letting go,” creating a dichotomy of pain and peace. Yet, I cannot stop seeing the Pietà as the feminine divine holding the brokenness of our humanity.
As we approach Mother’s Day in this month of Mary, I invite you to join me on Mary’s lap. Bring your brokenness. Bring your hurts, your challenges, your pains. Bring the fullness of your humanity. Let’s wrap ourselves in the folds of her dress and experience the comfort of divine love and protection.