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Boris Shou ’18: Summer in Singapore – Internship at a Startup and beyond

By Quanzhi Guo on September 14, 2015

The following post is by Boris Shou ’18, a potential Computer Science and Mathematics major. Boris spent his AMS grant on an entrepreneurship program with a startup in Singapore. 

  • Incubator spaces
  • Neighboring countries
  • Singapore street views (and me)
  • Singapore tourist attractions

This summer, I participated in Sage Corps, a U.S.-based entrepreneurship program that sends students overseas to work for startups. Of the several locations offered by the program, I was matched with a startup in Singapore and used my AMS grant to pay for the program tuition and living. I spent eight weeks there, working mainly on software development and maintenance, and learned a lot about the field.

On the very first day of the program, I was convinced that Singapore was the right place to learn about entrepreneurship. Traveling through the bustling streets and walkways, I was impressed by the high level of development in this city-state: modern architecture, cleanliness, cultural diversity, and perfect city planning. Singapore has achieved remarkable economic growth within the past three decades, and to keep the steam, the government has been investing heavily in innovation and providing adequate grants and support to entrepreneurs. Also, Singapore is of great importance to the entrepreneurs. While the Singapore market itself is small, the country has a long history of contact with the West, and enjoys easy access to all parts of Asia, where half of the world population lives.

I learned a great deal from my startup. I chose to be a programmer when I applied to Sage Corps. Having learned Django briefly, a Python web framework, I was able to dabble in most of its features during my internship and write significant programs for the products of the startup. I spent the first two weeks studying the rigorous setup of software development environment, and the next three weeks learning and writing functional tests, which use code to ensure that all necessary features are covered in an application. Having become much more familiar with Django, I spent the last three weeks building a small web application. Beside the technology part, I helped my startup with accounting and market research to get a sense of the other aspects of a startup.

Contrary to what I thought about startups before – creative but disorganized – I realized they are in fact well laid-out and that entrepreneurship is a science. The members in my startup assumed different roles, interacted with each other, and followed the Lean Startup methodology. Throughout the program, I also thought about whether startups really benefit the public or just cater to insatiable and unnecessary desires. I still do not have an answer. Based on the pitches I heard and places visited, I think entrepreneurship is good in the medical and educational fields. On other occasions, I find it neither bad nor good in the long run, or is controversial. Cheaper alternatives from startups could increase welfare by improving market efficiency, but at the same time, they pose threat to the existing traditional businesses.

Besides, I found the program relevant to my personal goals. After the program, I am determined to major in computer science at Colgate and pursue a career in IT in the future. I am not sure about entrepreneurship, but I find it exciting and I hope to do it someday.

I also had a great time in Singapore. Over the course of eight weeks, I became good friends with the twelve other undergraduates, who all had different backgrounds and came from all over the U.S. Together, we toured the manmade wonders in Singapore, including Gardens by the Bay, Night Safari, and Sentosa. We were impressed by the local food in hawker centers all around Singapore. Chinese, Indian, and Western restaurants were all so amazing. We went to world-class bars and clubs along Club Street, Clarke Quay, and between skyscrapers. We even traveled abroad during some of the weekends to nearby countries. Each city had a different vibe. The Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia appeared magnificent yet silent, with centuries of history being calmly displayed. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia showed the stunning Islamic culture of the country that I had never known before. Jakarta, Indonesia was full of potential with its large population, even though it looked old on the outside. Every time we returned to Singapore, we saw the “Welcome home” sign and were excited by the enchantment Southeast Asia offered.

Speaking of Singapore itself, I did find its culture unique and different, though I am from China and Singapore has its majority being ethnically Chinese. I talked with many local Singaporeans as well as Chinese, who arrived on government scholarships and later settled there. It was particularly interesting to learn about the strict laws in Singapore. These laws ensure the incredible orderliness of the country, but they annoyed me at times. Singapore is a unique model in the world, for it runs well without true democracy. The rulers may control the tiny country easily, but they have to be extremely cautious in international politics to avoid getting into wars with other countries. People are generally conservative, especially on political issues like LGBTQ. All of the unique aspects of Singapore that one does not find elsewhere are more or less the result of the country’s physical constraints – size and geographic location, which fascinate me.

In the end, it was a bit unfortunate that I had to leave right before the nation’s 50th birthday. Nevertheless, I was content and grateful for what I had experienced in eight weeks’ time. Singapore has amazed me much more than I expected, and with what I learned in my internship, it has been the best summer I have ever had.







Kenzie Hume ’14: Conectando la patria a la poesía: La Chilenidad de Pablo Neruda (Connecting the Homeland to the Poetry: Pablo Neruda’s “Chileanness”)

By Peter Tschirhart on September 2, 2015
A view of the ruins at Machu Picchu.

A view of the ruins at Machu Picchu.

During the winter of 2015, Kenzie Hume ’14 traced the life and history of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda across South America. Intrigued by his surrealist aesthetics, and fascinated by his commitment to Chile’s indigenous people, Kenzie used her AMS Grant to visit sites that exerted a formative influence on Neruda’s work: from his personal library in Santiago, to the mountain-top ruins of Machu Picchu. In what follows, Kenzie reflects on her travels and the AMS Grant experience.

Pablo Neruda has intrigued me ever since I took a seminar on Latin American avante garde poetry with my advisor, Chrystian Zegarra. In this seminar, I researched how Neruda used surrealism as a reaction against excessive rational thought, bourgeois values, and the absence of aesthetic preoccupation. My study focused on a very specific stage of his long, illustrious career, because I wanted to understand how Chile’s beloved literary icon transitioned from poet to political militant. I later fell in love with Latin America while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina during my junior year at Colgate. I visited the Patagonoia region in southern Chile on a spring break trip and was awed by the natural beauty of Torres del Paine. I hoped to return one day to get to know the rest of the country.

Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.

Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.

My interest in the poetry and life of Pablo Neruda, and my desire to see Chile, inspired my AMS Grant project. I decided to focus on Neruda’s masterwork Canto General, in which he reinterprets the Latin American identity from the perspective of its indigenous elements. My initial goal was to understand how Pablo Neruda formed his own conception of what it means to be Chilean and how his idea of “chilenidad,” or “chilean-ness,” influenced his representation of the indigenous people. The poem “Alturas de Machu Picchu” (“The Heights of Machu Picchu”) is particularly meaningful in this regard. It praises Peru for recognizing the indigenous elements in its culture but denounces the historical exploitation of these people in the construction of the ruins. My project involved investigating Neruda’s background and connecting his personal Chilean identity to his poetry in order to understand what compelled him to write from a viewpoint that affirmed indigenous culture.

To do this, I decided to visit his three houses to learn more about his background and inspiration. The first house I visited was La Chascona in Santiago, Chile. It was really whimsical and disjointed, almost like a treehouse, with many different parts connecting outdoors. Neruda designed it for himself and his (then) lover Matilde. The façade is not ostentatious, and the house focuses on intimate spaces. He even built secret passageways from which he would suddenly emerge to surprise his guests. Hanging inside was a painting I thought represented the themes I was studying. It depicted a fight between the indigenous people and Europeans: Sitting on a throne of clouds, a European queen watches from afar while other Europeans storm the ocean. There are many gruesome and violent elements. For example, there is an arrow in a European baby’s head. At the bottom of the painting, there is a label saying “America.” It was really interesting for him to display art reminiscent of the European-indigenous clash.

The exterior of La Chascona in Santiago, Chile.

The exterior of La Chascona in Santiago, Chile.

From there, I visited Neruda’s archives at the Universidad de Chile, which hosts his entire personal library. It seemed as if he read everything, as there were books about astronomy, medicine, philosophy, and much more. The archives also had an exquisite collection of seashells he gathered during his travels. Clearly, he was a learned man with an international outlook. My last stop in Santiago was to see the Pablo Neruda room in the library. It was interesting to see how Chile commemorates one of its greatest poets.

After leaving Santiago, I went to Valparaíso to see Neruda’s second home, La Sebastiana. This is where he wrote Canto General, the main focus of my study. I could see how he found inspiration, because the house has the most fantastic view of Valparaíso and the entire Chilean coast. The architecture also expressed Neruda’s artistic sensibility.

La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparaíso, Chile.

La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparaíso, Chile.

Finally, I visited Neruda’s coastal house in Isla Negra, which is also the site of his gravestone. The house is full of collectibles reminiscent of his cosmopolitan worldview and extensive travels. One of the most extravagant things in the house was an enormous brass telescope from the French government. He called his favorite room “Cosecha,” which means shelter in Mapuche language, in homage to his childhood in Telemark where there are a large number of Mapuche people.

The view of Pablo Neruda’s Isla Negra house from his backyard.

The view of Pablo Neruda’s Isla Negra house from his backyard.

Having seen where Neruda lived and wrote, I wanted to share the experiences that transformed how he viewed the world and that inspired “Alturas de Machu Picchu.” After returning to South America from abroad, Neruda toured Peru and visited the ruins of Machu Picchu. He was awed by its beauty and was compelled to write “Alturas de Machu Picchu,” a twelve-part poem that celebrates its creation and majesty while condemning the slavery it represented. To some, it is one of the most political poems of all time, while others consider it a testimony to Neruda’s mystic exploration of mankind. The poem lauds Peru for its celebration of its indigenous identity. It was easy to see why his trip to Machu Picchu had such an impact. The ruins are massive, intricate, and surrounded by the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Walking around the site, I felt as though I were on hallowed ground—a testament to the indigenous culture in Peru.

A portrait near the entrance to Machu Picchu.

A portrait near the entrance to Machu Picchu.

Pablo Neruda is one of the most influential and storied poets in any language. It was a privilege to travel to his homeland to better understand his poetry and interpret it from a different perspective. Through my research and travels, I came to see how his poetry manifests his personal cause: fighting for the identity and cohesion of Latin America. In Canto General, it was clear that Neruda connects his personal identity and voice to his poetry through self-exploration and sharing his experiences.

I am incredibly grateful to Colgate and the AMS program for allowing me to undertake this project. I want to thank my former high school Spanish teacher, Dr. Gloria Garza, who was instrumental in directing my research and gave me the encouragement to pursue my idea to study Neruda. At Colgate, Professor Chrystian Zegarra provided further guidance, advising me to focus on Canto General, and Professor Danny Barreto helped me with my grant proposal. Peter Tschirhart was instrumental in guiding me through the proposal process and aiding in the planning and logistics of the trip. Dean Gary Ross consistently uplifted me with his optimism and confidence every time I visited him.

As a double-major in Spanish and Mathematical Economics, I never anticipated that my AMS research would coincide with my Economics studies, given the topic I had chosen. However, my work ultimately served as the inspiration for my Mathematical Economics Honors Thesis. With the guidance of Jay Mandle and Michael O’Hara, I studied the economic integration of the Mapuche population in Chile after the country experienced immense growth in the late nineties. The surprising blend of my two diverse majors at Colgate my final year speaks to the beauty of a multidisciplinary liberal arts education. It facilitates creativity and passion for learning, which is the core of Colgate’s academic culture and the AMS program.

Student Profile: Mac Baler ’15

By Jessica Li on March 30, 2015


Name: Mac Baler
Class Year: 2015
Major: Computer Science and Japanese
Campus Activities: Senior Admissions Fellow, President of Masque & Triangle, Astronomy Teaching Assistant

Mac Baler is a senior Alumni Memorial Scholar and used his AMS scholars grant for a project that is both an intellectual interest and a personal passion, fostered throughout his four years at Colgate University. Mac has a love for Japan and the Japanese language, and he used his AMS grant and capstone project as an opportunity to delve more deeply into this passion.

Mac’s first time in Japan was during the fall of his Junior year on a program at a school called Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan. Although he started studying Japanese during his sophomore year, he hadn’t had any prior language experience. Mac fell in love with Japanese, which was the impetus for his decision to study abroad in Japan.

His semester abroad “was the most unbelievable experience, really.” Mac did a home-stay with a family for four months, explored various parts of the country, and was immersed in Japanese. Mac said that he believed his experience was so wonderful because “Between that family and the students and people that I met, it was so unreal how welcoming they were, not only my host family but also the students that I met, I felt like I belonged.”

Once he returned to Colgate, Mac knew that he needed to return to Japan. After a summer of brainstorming with advisors and professors in the Japanese department, he realized that his passion for the Japanese language could be the foundation for an interesting project. “I think that this is something that I realized while I was in Japan, it was fascinating to me because I had friends learning English while I was learning Japanese.”

In tandem with his professors, Mac decided to do a linguistics research project, which would be focused on youth language, or slang, in Japan. Japan has a unique culture of slang, which is highly geographically specific. “When people ask me about it I explain, in the US if you live in Boston, you say ‘wicked,’ and if you go to California people will still know what you mean. But in Japan that’s not true. So, with such massive dialectical differences the youth language is really interesting.”

Mac’s travel and research in Japan, which he conducted during winter break of 2015, was funded by his AMS grant, and afford him the opportunity to investigate the current state of youth language in Japan. Ultimately, Mac hopes to help other students interested in learning Japanese on their language journey. “I think that as someone who is learning Japanese as a foreign language, and as someone who was really excited to go to Japan, and didn’t have any language prep, there was no way that I would be prepared for youth slang or dialect and how that would change. I thought if I could provide a guide for students interested in learning Japanese that would be a valuable resource. I think it is vital to be able to speak with youth, especially if you’re going to be going to a school there.”

Ewa Protasiuk ’15: Reflections on the 2015 International Studies Association Conference

By Peter Tschirhart on March 26, 2015
View of New Orleans. Photo by Ewa Protasiuk.

View of New Orleans. Photo by Ewa Protasiuk.

The following post was contributed by Ewa Protasiuk ’15, a Biology major and PCON minor. Ewa recently used her AMS Grant to attend the International Studies Association conference in New Orleans. Along the way, she reflected on the synergies of travel and the promise of academic inquiry.


This is a post about a trip that almost didn’t happen. (Thank you, February 2015 weather!) But luckily, it did.

After two canceled flights and a delay, I made it to New Orleans for the International Studies Association’s Annual Convention. This conference brought together scholars from the discipline of International Relations. This is not my discipline; but as a Peace and Conflict Studies minor with an interest in how (or perhaps whether?) academic scholarship can be anti-oppressive on a variety of fronts, several presentations and discussions interested me. They covered themes such as feminist takes on militarism, “Queering/Querying Global Political Economy” (as one roundtable discussion was titled), the relationship between silence and agency, and how collages (yes, as in the art form) can open up different ways of thinking about political science. (Check out Saara Särmä’s dissertation collages if this intrigues you.) I also attended talks with my advisor in Peace and Conflict Studies, Susan Thomson, and met several of her colleagues, friends, and fellow Canadians.

While the discussions formally organized by the conference were certainly thought-provoking, I also thought a lot about the conference itself–as an entity with its own culture, set of power dynamics, and materialities. I’ve also been thinking about the meaning of my travel between New York State and New Orleans, and many different dynamics I saw at play just in those few days. A few scattered anecdotes:

  • While flying to the conference, delayed in Charlotte, I sat down at my gate among a number of people–apparently strangers, apparently white–who were sharing a conversation about their military experiences. The tone of the conversation was overwhelmingly positive.
  • While at the conference, held predominantly in a Hilton hotel on the riverfront of New Orleans, not far from the famed French Quarter, I heard only one panelist acknowledge that we are on Native American land.
  • While flying back to New York, sitting at the gate, delayed yet again, I got into conversation with a woman who used to live in New Orleans but who, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, moved to Central New York. She has traveled back to New Orleans as often as she could over the past ten years with devotion.

Pieces of the what scholars talk about during academic conferences are evident in the everyday—things with big names like militarism, environmental racism, and settler colonialism. What do conferences have to do with resistance to these things? I am a big-time, largely unapologetic nerd. I love school. I love research. I say this even as a second-semester senior with a matter of weeks left at Colgate. But there is some disconnect between the world I find at the conference, and the world I find at the airport. One I want to explore further.

Kelsey Bash ’15: “A trip around the globe with Mary”

By Peter Tschirhart on March 23, 2015

Alumni Memorial Scholar Kelsey Bash ’15 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, France.

Alumni Memorial Scholar Kelsey Bash ’15, a Molecular Biology major, used her AMS Grant to travel the world during the winter of 2014-15. Her project, titled “The Transculturation of Marian Apparitions,” examined how the appearance of the Virgin Mary was expressed in Catholic communities around the globe. As a practicing Catholic herself, Kelsey found rich meaning on both a personal and intellectual level throughout her study. What follows are photographs and a written report describing her experience at each site.


During the Christmas season of miracles, I was able to go on a miraculous around-the-world journey using an AMS Grant. The goal of my project was to consider the transculturation of the Catholic Church through the lens of Marian apparitions, and it was also a pilgrimage of great self-discovery. I was blessed to visit five countries and six Marian sites over the course of three weeks and will reflect on each separately before making some general conclusions.

Firstly, some background information may be helpful. A Marian apparition is defined by the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a particular person or persons. There have been thousands of reported apparitions of Mary in the 2,000 years since her assumption, with more apparitions reported in the 20th century than in any other. While there is some controversy among believers and in the Church, with only 9 apparitions receiving official Vatican approval, the fruits of the apparitions are evident. Countless miracles, healings, and conversions have resulted from Mary’s appearances.

Convent where a wooden statue of Mary spoke and wept 101 times in the 70s.

Convent where a wooden statue of Mary spoke and wept 101 times in the 70s.

My trip started in Akita, Japan, at the Convent Seitai Hoshikai where Mary appeared to a Sister Agnes Sasagawa in 1973. Sr. Agnes, previously deaf, heard a “voice of indescribable beauty” coming from a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and received three messages from the Virgin. The statue then wept 101 times from 1975 to 1981, with over 500 witnesses. I was blessed to spend time alone (January being an unpopular time for pilgrimage) with the miraculous statue in the convent chapel. Kneeling before Mary two feet away, I could feel the warmth of her graces, but also the urgency in her call to pray for the conversion of sinners as relayed by Sr. Agnes.

Next, I embarked for Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of the most visited and most controversial apparition sites, with Mary still reportedly appearing to some of the visionaries today. In 1981, Mary appeared to 6 Bosnian children with a call to conversion and prayer and with 10 secrets regarding the end of the world. Mary told the visionaries that she would continue to appear to them daily until revealing the 10th secret and presently two visionaries continue to receive daily apparitions while the others receive monthly or yearly messages, many of which are made public online.

Statue of Our Lady, Queen of Peace on Apparition Hill.

Statue of Our Lady, Queen of Peace on Apparition Hill.

I arrived in Medjugorje on the eve of the Feast of Mary, Mother of God on January 1st, just in time to join the hoards of devout pilgrims for a midnight vigil. I stood outside for the vigil, watching the Croatian mass on a large screen and occasionally being able to peak in through the crowded doorway (despite having arrived two hours early). Each subsequent service I attended–indeed, there were masses and services in many languages throughout the entire day–was similarly packed. Entering into such an international and devout Body of Christ was an absolute blessing. Medjugorje also offered many intimate encounters with Mary as I prayed my way up the steep and snowy Cross Mountain and up the holy Apparition Hill. I also encountered the commercialism of religious pilgrimage sites in Medjugorje as I walked by (and into, admittedly) tens of shops selling rosaries, prayer cards, medals, and the like.

Mary led me to Paris next, to the chapel at Rue du Bac. Mary appeared in this chapel at the convent of the Sisters of Charity in 1830 to a new novice, Catherine Laboure. Since her mom died during Catherine’s childhood, Catherine had always had a special devotion to Mary and wished nothing more than to see her. This was realized when she was led to the chapel by a young boy, presumably her Guardian Angel, who told her “Come to the chapel; the Blessed Virgin is waiting for you.”

In the chapel, Catherine heard the rustle of a silk dress and saw a beautiful lady sit down in the Priest’s chair. Mary comforted Catherine and told her of things that would come to pass in France in the next 40 years. She also charged Catherine with a mission—one that she explained to Catherine during a second apparition on November 27th. Catherine was to oversee the production of a medal emulating Mary as she appeared to Catherine and with a beautiful symbol on the back.  The medal was cast in 1831 and millions distributed within a few years. It quickly became known as the “Miraculous Medal” due to the many conversions and cures it led to. Catherine’s identity as the visionary was not revealed until just before her death in 1876.  Catherine was canonized in 1947 and her body was found to be incorrupt. It lies today in the chapel where I was blessed to pray before it.

Indeed, it was miraculous that Mary led me to the chapel just before it closed for two weeks the next day. The chapel at Rue du Bac had an air of Grace unlike anywhere I have ever been. Kneeling before the chair where Mary sat with St. Catherine’s incorrupt body to my right, glancing up at the beautiful statue of Mary, I could feel Mary’s graces pouring down upon me. I was struck by the glorious way the rays pouring out of Mary’s hands pointed directly to Our Lord in the tabernacle situated beneath the statue, confirming Mary’s promise to lead us to Christ.

Chapel at Rue du Bac, Paris, where Mary appeared to St. Catherina Laboure with the image of the Miraculous Medal.

Chapel at Rue du Bac, Paris, where Mary appeared to St. Catherina Laboure with the image of the Miraculous Medal.

After a quick stop in Paris, I headed to the Pyrenes foothills to Lourdes, France. Mary appeared in 1858 to a 14-year old peasant, Bernadette, in a grotto when she was fetching water. Mary appeared as a young girl of 16 or 17 dressed in a white robe with a blue ribbon at the waist and a white veil on her head. She was carrying rosary beads. Mary appeared to Bernadette 18 times that year with messages of hope and of a need for penitence. Mary caused a miraculous spring to come up from the dry ground that still flows today. At this Grotto, Mary told Bernadette “Que soy era Immaculada Counception,” I am the Immaculate Conception, confirming the Catholic teaching of Mary as Immaculate. Thousands of miracles have been approved in Lourdes, France, and it is once of the largest Catholic pilgrimmage sites for healing.

I was blessed to have a couple of quiet days at Lourdes during the off-season for pilgrimages. I participated in French and English mass in the various chapels and the rosary basilica, bathed in the baths at Lourdes, went to confession, visited the childhood home of Bernadette, and explored all that the beautiful basilica had to offer. My time is Lourdes was a time of penitence and beauty.

I ended my journey at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It was a huge coming home for me, as I have always had a special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and being in North America revering the Patroness of the Americas in a language I spoke was a huge blessing. Guadalupe certainly was not an afterthought as it is the most well known apparition and the most visited Marian shrine in the world with 10 million pilgrims visiting it each year. I spent four days in Mexico City and went to the Basilica each day. The Basilica was built on the site where Mary appeared to a poor farmer, Juan Diego, in 1531. The young Aztec woman asked Juan to have a basilica built on Tepeyac Hill where she greeted him. The Bishop did not believe Juan Diego and asked for a sign.  Mary told Juan to pick Castilian roses on the hill—Spanish flowers growing in Mexico, in December. Juan brought the roses to the Bishop and when he unrolled his garment, his “Tilma,” carrying them, the roses fell to the ground and a miraculous image of Mary was on the Tilma. The Bishop fell in veneration and had a basilica built. People quickly came to revere Our Lady, and within 7 years, 8 million Aztecs had converted—the apparition is largely responsible for the Christianization of Latin America. The image of Our Lady remains on the Tilma today, completely unchanged, after nearly 500 years on a fabric that disintegrates after 20 years. Again, thousands of miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The basilica remains a very popular pilgrimage site today.

One of many processions to the Basilica with pilgrim groups carrying large floats of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

One of many processions to the Basilica with pilgrim groups carrying large floats of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I was able to partake in many pilgrim activities, attending many masses, walking up and down the Tepeyac and enjoying the bustling commercialism. The number of pilgrims at the Basilica was unparalleled, with groups coming hourly for mass—held from 6am till 6pm with hundreds of pilgrims in each. By happenstance, I was visiting on the day of the annual pilgrimage and enjoyed mass in the square with thousands of Mexicans who had gathered from all of the parishes in Mexico City with the Archbishop and Cardinal. Mexico City felt like home, and Mary was my dear mother fully embracing me.

Annual Pilgrimage Mass with the Archbishop, thousands of pilgrims in the square between the new and old basilicas for mass.

Annual Pilgrimage Mass with the Archbishop, thousands of pilgrims in the square between the new and old basilicas for mass.

As an added bonus to my trip, I discovered one more apparition site near Mexico City on the final day of my trip. Tlaxcala, Mexico is a city a couple of hours by bus from Mexico City. Mary appeared there in 1541 to Juan Bernardino and brought forth a healing spring of water to cure the villagers from the plague. She also told him to tell the Franciscan monks that she would provide a statue of herself for them. One night in the forest, flames lit all the trees on fire, but the trees did not burn and one in particular stood out. The Franciscans marked it, returned the next day, split it open, and found a statue of the Virgin Mary inside. The statue sits today in the Church of Our Lady of Ocotlán, where I was blessed to spend a day.

Miraculous wooden Statue of Our Lady of Ocotlán that was found inside a tree after a lightening storm.

Miraculous wooden Statue of Our Lady of Ocotlán that was found inside a tree after a lightening storm.

Mary is known by many different titles, and I encountered her in Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of Tlaxcala. Most Catholics have a devotion to one particular image of Mary largely depending on the image they’ve encountered most. However, in all of the images, we are worshiping the same woman, the Mother of God. And, indeed, there is a large intertwining of Marian images across cultures. The patroness of the Americas, and absolutely fundamental in Latin American Catholicism, Our Lady of Guadalupe earned a spot in nearly all of the churches in Mexico. Additionally, though, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was frequently in other countries as well. Indeed, there was a large icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe at a side chapel in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego at a central altar right next to the basilica in Lourdes. Conversely, the grotto at Lourdes was replicated in many churches in Mexico.  I also noticed many consistencies in the images of Mary. Mary’s hands were always formed in prayer, she was frequently carrying a rosary, the sun and the moon were featured largely in the images, and all of the images were consistent with Scripture. From all of this, I received the sense that one can pick whichever image of Mary most resonates with them to revere, but that one MUST pick one. The tradition of the Church, the role of Mary as the Co-Redemptress and Mediatrix of Grace, the writings of the Popes, and in Mary’s messages themselves, emphasize that utmost importance that we honor Mary.

Church of Our Lady of Ocotlán, Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Church of Our Lady of Ocotlán, Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Many people question why Mary appears when she does and how she picks to whom to appear; I found myself asking similar questions of Mary, and also of myself, during my pilgrimage. Why had I been blessed with such an opportunity to discover Mary? Indeed, it seemed nothing short of a miracle to have received an AMS research grant to explore Marian apparitions. I am over-joyed to share the answer I received. While Mary manifests herself differently in each culture, just like Christ who she constantly points her children to, Mary is for ALL, including me!