Today, around the world, the Catholic church is celebrating the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which has been celebrated now for over 1500 years. The idea is that from conception, Mary herself was free from sin. Scripture teaches us that only One was ever free from sin from conception--Jesus Christ, who is 100% God and 100% man.
But, here in Paraguay, there is a twist--they are celebrating the "Virgin of Miracles" as well. Over the past two months, I have heard many local stories relating miracles. Sadly, each one ends with the worship of a person, place, or thing--not the worship of the one and only God who deserves the worship from all peoples and nations.
(picture from abc.com.py)
This is the story here in Paraguay:
In the sixteenth century (1500s) a converted-to-Catholicism Guaraní indian was out looking for clay for his sculptures. While he was out in the woods alone, a group of hostile indians from a neighboring tribe came past. The now-Catholic indian hid behind a tree and prayed to Mary that she would protect him--and he made a promise to her: if she would protect him from the hostile neighbors, he would sculpt a statue of her out of the tree that was hiding him. He did in fact live, and fulfilled his promise to Mary by carving the statue of her. He placed her statue in a local church, and it was housed there until 1603.
In 1603, a lake near the church flooded, and washed away everything in its path--included the statue of Mary. As the waters receded, the statue miraculously reappeared, and began to be called the "Virgin of Miracles." A carpenter constructed a building to house the statue, and people soon began to make pilgrimages to the Virgin of Miracles. The statue is now housed in the Basilica in Caacupe. For over 400 years, people have been walking to pay homage to the Virgin of Miracles. Throughout the year people make promises to the statue, and say "If you do this__________, I will walk to Caacupe on December 8th." Caacupe is approximately 35 miles outside of the city of Asuncion. People walk, bike, drive, and ride horseback from all over the country to fulfill their promises. I read in a news article that the plaza in front of the Basilica can hold over 300,000 people--and it is always overflowing.
I am reminded of Isaiah 44, where Isaiah prophesies to Israel about their idolatry. A carpenter cuts down a tree, and with half of it he carves an idol to worship, and with the other half he warms himself with a fire. "He makes it into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, 'Deliver me, for you are my god!'" (verse 17)
Please be in prayer for the people of Paraguay. Many are in a fight for their souls, and do not know it. I believe one of the greatest lies of Satan is for someone to believe they are a Christian and saved, when they have never trusted in the blood of Jesus Christ alone to wash away their sins and reunite them with God.
Also today, as I am considering my own life--are there areas of idolatry? Have I placed something in a greater position than God Himself? If the statue-worship of over 300,000 people concerns you, take some time in prayer today to consider if you have put the God of all creation in second place.