Growing up in a “Protestant” church in Brazil put me at odds with society at large. Catholicism was then, and still is — though it has lost scores of “faithful” over the last couple of decades — the dominant religion of the nation. My friends in school harassed me for being “Protestant.” They would bring little images of Mary engraved on cheap paper and dared me to step on it — “if you are really a man.” I never did it, not for fear of Mary but for fear of men…

My hometown of Belem, northern Brazil, boasts the biggest Catholic procession anywhere in the country — a million plus people, following the image of Mary for miles, thanking her for a “miracle” or begging her to intervene in a supernatural way. The reverence for the Madonna is everywhere, even in the prevalence of female names starting with Maria. “Maria do Socorro” (“Help”), “Maria das Dores” (“Pain”), “Maria da Luz” (“Light), “Maria de Nazare” (“Nazareth”), “Maria da Anunciacao” (“Annunciation”), “Maria das Gracas” (“Grace”), “Maria de Lurdes” (“Lourdes”), “Maria dos Remedios” (“Medicine”), etc., etc. There is never a shortage of women named “Maria” in Latin America!

All of this emphasis on Mary, though, tended to suffocate people like me. But with time I came to realize that while the Catholics are guilty of “Mari-olotry” (the worship of Mary), Protestants are guilty of “Mari-aversion.” And because of my upbringing, I ended up becoming very distant from Mary. She was almost never talked about in church, except briefly on Christmas Eve, as she sat there mute in front of the baby Jesus. Mary became the invisible Bible character, most important for our understanding of Jesus’ human origin, but too dangerous to emphasize because another group of believers chose to elevate to a level above humans.

So I forgot about Mary…

But over time God has presided over a rehabilitation of Mary and her status in my heart. I began to see her as the Mother of my Lord she was. Not the “Mother of God,” but the “Mother of the Son of God.” God in flesh had a mother and her name was Maria. No, there was nothing inherently special about this young lady, but I learned that the Angel Gabriel did call her “highly favored.” In other words, God had gifted her with the greatest gift ever — that of carrying in her belly, and cradling in her arms the One who would bring salvation to the whole world.

And God picked “Maria” to display His unmerited favor on. He didn’t pick Anna or Rebecca. He picked “Maria.” And we ought to recognize that and celebrate her as the Mother of our Lord.

Not only that, Mary was a woman of courage. Think about the circumstances of her pregnancy… And the dangers associated with the way she gave birth to the Messiah — many miles away from the comforts of home, in a makeshift room, surrounded by animals… And then she was forced to relocate to a foreign country… And, to top all that, in all likelihood, at some point before Jesus even achieved adulthood, she became a single mom, with the death of Joseph.

So a picture begins to emerge: the evangelical church has done a disservice so Mary. In our attempt not to worship her, which the Bible doesn’t warrant, we have rendered her life meaningless.

Well, this Sunday I intend to set the record straight. Don’t miss it!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade