“What do I do?”
Remember O Most gracious Virgin Mary that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection …
In planning our family visit to Vienna, we noticed that Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was just an hour away. We must go! When else will we get the chance to see Slovakia, a country that is not on most people’s top 10 list of tourist destinations?
Slovakia is a young country founded just 30 years ago after the Velvet Revolution ended communism in Czechoslovakia. Bratislava has existed for 1,000 years, though, and has an old town area full of beautiful buildings, pokey cobblestone streets, and a hrad (castle). The day we visited, the city was enshrouded with fog and Bratislava Castle was a faint outline in the cloud. We climbed up to explore.
Inside is the Slovak National Museum, where we learned history from the ancient Celtic ruins to the Velvet Revolution in 1989. I knew Slovakia was young, but I didn’t realize just how young until we got to the exhibit showing the overthrow of communism. Here were images of students protesting the communist government. Voices chanted loudly, demanding democracy and free elections. Rooms were arranged as communist offices: stark, empty, cold, with floor to ceiling file cabinets I can imagine held intelligence on local citizens. There were barbed wire-topped chain-link fences with photos of revolutionaries tucked between them. One could envision what life under communist rule was like: oppressive and fear filled. I looked at the faces of the protestors and noted the date — November 1989 — and realized these people are my age. In 1989, while my husband and I were courting, kids our own age in Eastern Europe were trying to build a free society. While we bounced around carefree, they risked their lives for a future of freedom. They were my age.
… implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided.
The fog had lifted when we exited the castle and, from the top, we saw Old Town on one side, conjuring romantic images of the past and on the other side, under the same gray sky, the sharp-edged, poured concrete utilitarian buildings of communist-era Bratislava. Thirty years isn’t long enough to erase decades of oppression.
These thoughts were fresh on my mind when we learned that passports were required to travel back to Vienna. My daughter hadn’t brought hers but we weren’t stopped on our way into Slovakia, so we didn’t worry. The lady at the bus ticket booth was worried, though, and she probably knew more than we did.
Inspired by this confidence I fly unto thee O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother.
The bus driver did not ask for passports so we thought all was well. Twenty minutes into the ride, the bus stopped and the border patrol agent boarded. It was dark, we were in a strange land and I was thinking about communism.
“What do I do?” my daughter whispered.
“Pray!” I replied.
Never have I been so direct in my prayer. I usually pepper my requests with lots of “pleases” and “if it is your wills.” Not that cold January night on the border of Slovakia and Austria.
“Mary, this is only going to work out if you intercede. You’re the only one who can make this happen.”
To thee do I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petition but in thy mercy hear and answer me.
I launched into St. Teresa of Calcutta’s flying novena (nine Memorares followed immediately with a 10th in thanksgiving, so confident are we in the answered prayer). It is a prayer that has never failed and I knew, I knew, it wouldn’t fail this time.
Reflecting back, I realize I remained calm. Mary’s prayers gave me the grace not to worry. My heart didn’t race and my hands didn’t shake. My daughter had a photo of her passport on her phone. When the agent got to our row, I showed him mine; he nodded. She showed him the picture of hers; he nodded and moved on.
I was filled with gratitude and awe at the power of our Lord and his Mother Mary. I finished the novena and spent the remainder of the ride contemplating how good God is. Skeptics might say it was luck that got us through or maybe a lazy border patrol agent or maybe because we were traveling as a family, but I know that it worked out because Mary prayed for us and her son answered.