By Carmen Elena Villa
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Sedes Sapientiae icon of Our Lady — commissioned by Pope John Paul II for university students in 2000 — has finished its tour of Australia and is headed now to Africa.
A climate of prayer, intercultural friendship, and naturally, the search for wisdom, marked the Thursday vespers service during which the icon was given to African students by their Australian contemporaries.
Breaking with tradition, Benedict XVI himself presided over a pre-Christmas vespers service with university students of Rome (usually the vicar for Rome celebrates the Mass and presides over vespers, and the Pope arrives at the end to give an address).
The icon of Our Lady, Throne of Wisdom — created by Jesuit Father Ivan Rupnik — spent the year visiting Australian universities. The Pope chose this venue following the July 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney.
Daniel Hill, of the University of Sydney, was with 10 other young Australians in a delegation that traveled to Rome to entrust the icon to Africa.
He said the icon’s time Down Under was “a beautiful experience,” explaining that the image visited 13 universities.
Hill recounted to ZENIT how during the tour, small groups of students gathered to reflect on the presence of Mary in university life. “It helped us to understand that the university should be a light that radiates the light of Christ through the example of his holy Mother,” he said.
Seminarian Nicholas Rynne spoke of the change experienced by many young Australians over the last two years. “As Catholics, it is easy to feel isolated, but with this icon and with World Youth Day, we have had a powerful experience of communion with the Church.”
As 2009 was an important year for the Church in Africa — with the Pope’s first apostolic visit there last March and October’s synod on Africa — 2010 will see the icon traveling to various universities across that continent.
The vespers service in Rome on Thursday already had an African feel, with the entrance and closing Marian hymns being sung to African melodies.
For young Father Paul Ubebe of Nigeria, the presence of the icon “enables us to be closer to the Church as university students. In this way, we value more the role of Mary in our salvation.”
Reine Marie Miranda of Senegal told ZENIT that the most moving experience at vespers was the Pope’s homily. Benedict XVI said, “Without the wisdom of God, not anything has been made of all that exists: A Christian professor or student reads everything in his light.”
For Miranda, “to be humble is to see study with the eyes of little ones. Reasoning as a child, one can make miracles, because for a child, there are no limits.”