Pilgrimages aren’t as widespread in Christianity as they are in Islam, but one thing all of these types of pilgrimages have in common is that the numbers are inevitably large. Every year, tens of thousands of Senegalese believers, predominantly Catholics, embark on an inconspicuous journey to Popenguine, a village in the Cap Vert-Thies region of the country.
The area has grown so prominent as an annual event with a rich historical blend of resilience and superstition that it has attracted visitors from outside Senegal’s borders, including many Muslims.
But, aside from the fact that it holds one of the many hundreds of Black Madonnas (black statues of the Most Holy Virgin Mary), what makes the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Délivrance so special?
In this West African country, it is thought to have certain superficial qualities that can heal people of their ailments in a way that is celebrated on a national scale.
This Popenguine locale, known as a Shrine, has faced numerous defeats and threats of death – literally. The shrine, which was established in the 1800s by a Catholic priest named Bishop Mathurin Picarda after falling in love with the village of Popenguine during his first visit there, would endure through many closures and failures over the next century.
There was a building collapse, epidemics of yellow fever and sleeping sickness, the Great War, and a shipwreck that killed a bishop and 16 missionaries during that time period.
Following that, the neighborhood remained predominantly Muslim, but the Catholic faith and devotion to the Our Lady of Deliverance figure endured.
In 1991, at the request of Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiamdoum, a native of Popenguine, a new church was built and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, and it was named a minor basilica in 1991. This marked the beginning of a new life for the church and the community.
On February 20, 1992, Pope John Paul II, the head of the Catholic church at the time, paid a visit to the shrine and crowned the statue of Our Lady of Deliverance.
From there, tens of thousands of pilgrims, many of them organized groups of young people, and many of them motivated by rumors of Marian apparitions happening there, flocked to Popenguine for the yearly celebration on Pentecost Monday, the feast day of the Black Madonna.
A solemn mass is celebrated at the church, followed by a procession from the church to a neighboring grotto shrine of Our Lady of Deliverance on a cliff overlooking the sea.
Without a doubt, religion in Africa is as large as the continent’s population. Despite the proliferation of many other Christian ideologies across the continent, the Catholic Church nevertheless holds a significant position.
In reality, figures from the Vatican demonstrate how Catholicism will fare in Africa in the future. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Africa in 2009, the anticipated number of Catholics was 158 million, but it is expected that by 2025, Africa will account for one-sixth (230 million) of the world’s Catholics.
All of this is due to the fact that the number of Bible-believing Christians on the continent continues to grow. The BBC ran a feature on the subject in 2018 called “The Intriguing History of the “Black Madonna,” which highlighted the unique interest of a US artist named Theaster Gates, who has done extensive work on the concept of the “Black Madonna” in his latest exhibition honoring images of powerful black women.
Traditionally, the Virgin Mary has been depicted as a young mother with white skin in paintings and sculptures, although she has also been depicted with a dark or black face and hands.
History of the Madonna Statue
Leonard Moss appears to have given the first important examination of the origin and significance of the so-called Black Madonnas in English at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Dec. 28, 1952. Surprisingly, all of Moss’ artworks had a reputation for miracles.
Throughout France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, and other Catholic countries, millions of European visitors ritually bow themselves before the figure of Black Mary and her child Jesus at Black Madonna sites.
For example, in Poland, believers are encouraged to pray to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa every morning before rising. This is a tradition that Pope John Paul II is said to follow. Pope Paul II’s visit to Czestochowa’s holiest shrine, which prominently exhibits “The Lady,” known for centuries as the Black Madonna, was covered by Time Magazine on June 11, 1979.
In France alone, there are approximately 300 verified Black Madonna locations!