Not Alone: At the House of Mary Near Ephesus

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I was a solo traveler in the pilgrimage I joined to the Holy Land and Turkey. Most of the others in the pilgrimage were traveling with their spouses, their friends, or their relatives. Those who were not seemed to have known each other previously. Although everyone else was very nice, fun even, at times I acutely felt the lack of a traveling companion.

Actually, the pilgrimage chaplain was a relative of mine both distant and close at the same time – distant, because he is the third cousin of my mother; close, because he has been my spiritual director for quite some time now. I anticipated, though, that during the pilgrimage he would be too busy attending to the pastoral needs of the group that any chances for uncle-and-niece bonding moments would be out of the question. I realized too that it would not have been right for me to hog his company and deprive the other pilgrimage participants of the attention of the pilgrimage chaplain.

There was neither reason nor opportunity for me, however, to wallow in self-pity over being alone. There could never have been, given the hectic schedule and the good fortune of being in the same places where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph walked when they were on earth.

One of such places we were lucky to have visited was the house near Ephesus where, according to tradition, Mary spent her last days on earth. It is located on a hill overlooking fertile plains and with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. Trees abound on the slopes of the hill. According to our guide, a forest fire occurred at the slopes of the hill last year; however, the flames stopped right before reaching the house of Mary.

The place was full of life. I saw birds and squirrels. There is a spring that provides water. The weather was pleasantly windy and cool, at least for someone like me who comes from the humid tropics. I imagined how painstakingly St. John the Apostle must have picked and prepared this spot for Mary.

We had Mass at a chapel located in the grounds, and according to the plan, we were to say the Rosary inside the house of Mary. We couldn’t say the Rosary together as a big group, though, as we might disturb others. So we were advised to say the Rosary in pairs or in small groups.

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After entering the house of Mary, I fished out of my knapsack a special Rosary of mine, a pearl Rosary given to me by my paternal grandfather the last time I saw him before he died. I then commenced praying – alone.

Upon finishing the second mystery, the custodian of the house of Mary requested that we move out of the house to give a chance to others who want to pray inside, since the house is small. We were constrained to finish praying the Rosary at the grounds surrounding the house.

As I was about to continue praying the Rosary, the pilgrimage chaplain – my uncle – approached me, and asked me at what part I was in. When I told him that I was already in the third mystery, he invited me to continue praying the Rosary with him.

Praying the Rosary in front of Mary’s house was very consoling. I felt Mary was encouraging me to tell her about my worries and trials, so that she could make things right. I felt all the more consoled praying the Rosary together with my dear uncle. I had been hoping for some uncle-and-niece bonding moments with him, and here, Mary had arranged for uncle and niece to pray together that prayer she loves so much, by the place where she herself dwelt.

After praying the Rosary, we walked around the grounds for a while, soaking in the beauty of the place. I found myself telling Mary how beautiful her place is, and it was as if I could hear her tell me, “I brought you here because I knew you would like it here, because I know you need to rest.”

Our next stop for that day was the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, which included the ruins of the church where the Council of Ephesus was held in AD 431. There, the dogma of the theotokos – that Mary is the Mother of God – was defined.

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I privately prayed a “Hail Mary” since I know that the title “Mother of God” is the highest honor bestowed upon Mary.

Then, it occurred to me – this same Mary who was declared in this spot to be the Mother of God is the same Mary to whom my uncle and I had been praying to earlier, the same Mary who, just a while ago, had been mothering me and reassuring me that I am never alone in my journey towards God.

From then on, whenever I feel alone, I turn to Mary to remind me that I am not. For God in His infinite wisdom gave me His own mother to be my own as well. He knows, after all, that none of us can journey to Him alone, that we all need others to help us, and that we all need a mother especially – all of us, including supposedly intrepid single female travelers like myself.

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes

Cristina Montes, from the Philippines, is a lawyer, writer, amateur astronomer, a gardening enthusiast, a voracious reader, a karate brown belter, an avid traveler, and a lover of birds, fish, rabbits, and horses. She is a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan who reads the entire trilogy once a year. She is the eldest daughter in a large, happy Catholic family.

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