National Geographic's December 2015 cover story features someone they've deemed "the most important woman in the world": The Virgin Mary.
The article examines the history of Marian devotion and her importance in cultures that are otherwise drastically different. It also notes that even though she only speaks a few times in the Bible, her image has remained extremely important for over a millennium.
Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines such as Fátima, in Portugal, and Knock, in Ireland, sustaining religious tourism estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and providing thousands of jobs. She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture (Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” Notre Dame Cathedral), as well as poetry, liturgy, and music (Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin). And she is the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.
Muslims as well as Christians consider her to be holy above all women, and her name “Maryam” appears more often in the Koran than “Mary” does in the Bible. In the New Testament Mary speaks only four times, beginning with the Annunciation, when, according to Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel appears to her and says she will bear “the Son of the Most High.” Mary answers, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Her only extended speech, also in Luke, is the lyrical Magnificat, uttered in early pregnancy: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Indeed they have.
The profile then delves into various Marian apparitions that have occurred around the world. The author writes about going to Lourdes and entering the baths there, describing the experience as "a bracing moment of deep peace."
The piece also examined how Mary is treated in the Islamic faith--Mary is the only woman to have a sura (chapter) dedicated to her in the Koran. Muslims believe that Mary was chosen by God over all other women due to her chastity and obedience and is therefore an important figure in their faith.
It's cool to see such a major magazine focus on religious beliefs in a respectful, reverential manner, and to acknowledge that for millions of people around the world, faith is a key part of their life and being.