I DON’T LIKE to drive alone, but when I do I turn on the radio to keep me company. After a while, though, I always turn it off to pray the rosary. It is quite easy to remember Our Lady while driving on European roads because there is always a little reminder of her on the car in front of me. How is this possible?

Well, if you live outside of the European Union, you may not be aware that the very diverse types of license plates of cars from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Germany and the other member states of the Union all have one symbol in common: twelve golden stars arranged in a circle on a blue background. And that is precisely the symbol that reminds me of Our Lady.

Let me explain.

Rue du Bac in Paris is a narrow alley not far from the Louvre Museum. It can easily be reached by the metro, getting off at the Rue de Bac station. At number 140 there is a convent belonging to the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. It was here that on the evening of 18 July, 1830, a young novice called Catherine Labouré experienced her first apparition of the Virgin Mary. Our Lady informed her that God was conferring upon her a very special mission, but that she would experience much opposition and tribulation in carrying it out.

On 27 November of that same year Catherine had another vision. The Blessed Virgin displayed herself inside an oval frame, standing upon a globe. Rays of light extended out from her hands in the direction of a globe. Around the margin of the frame appeared the words ‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you’. As Catherine watched, the frame seemed to rotate, showing a circle of twelve stars, recalling the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelations, and a large letter M surmounted by a cross with the stylized Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary underneath. Asked why some of the rays of light did not arrive as far as the land, Mary reportedly replied, “Those are the graces for which people forget to ask.” The Virgin Mary then gave her the following instruction: “Have a medal struck according to this vision, and all those who wear it will receive great graces.”

In February 1832 a terrible outbreak of cholera that claimed the lives of over 20,000 people broke out in Paris. In June the Daughters of Charity began distributing the first 2,000 medals, and the people who obtained them started to experience healings and spiritual conversions. Gradually, the people of Paris began to refer to the medal as ‘miraculous’.

By the autumn of 1834 over 500,000 medals had been struck, and by the time Sr. Catherine died in 1876, that figure had risen to the billion mark.

Over the years the small convent at 140 Rue du Bac became the world-famous shrine of the Miraculous Medal and, on the morning of 18 July, 1953, among the many pilgrims visiting the place was one Arsène Heitz, a German-French draughtsman from Strasbourg. Arsène had gone there as a pilgrim in the hope of receiving an inspiration from Our Lady in order to design the flag that would represent the European Union. The design was to be simple, beautiful and capable of evoking those values common to the diverse traditions of the peoples constituting the Union.

About 100 graphic designers submitted their drawings to the panel of judges that was to select the most suitable symbol, and Arsène was one of these. He had first come up with the symbol of the cross, but when he had heard that the panel would reject any drawing containing religious symbolism, Arsène turned to Our Lady for the inspiration to come up with a symbol that would be acceptable to people of all faiths and none. Arsène’s prayer was heard, and in 1955 the panel selected his drawing: a circle of twelve golden stars with a background that was blue, the colour of Mary. It was the 8th of December, Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, the dogma of faith heralded by that medal that was the source of Arsène’s inspiration.

Dear readers, next time you are driving, remember to set aside time to pray the rosary. Perhaps you may at times be distracted by the scenery – the sun peeping through the clouds, grazing sheep, the wonderful colours of nature – or you may be annoyed by the traffic, but it is all part of the prayer. After all, we are walking with Jesus and Mary through the mystery of their lives, which is all tied up with the mystery of our own lives as Christians.


Updated on October 06 2016