In Bismarck, North Dakota, and in Portland, Oregon, there are statues of the same woman. She is an Indian. Both statues were erected in memory of one who helped a group of American explorers to find their way in the great Northwest.
It was the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. They came upon the home of a trapper named Touissant Charbonneau. They asked him to guide them on their journey west. The trapper answered:
"I'll do it if my wife and son go too."
The soldiers hesitated, because it was unusual, unheard of that a woman and child would go along on an expedition. But their need of a guide forced them to agree. The Indian woman bore all the hardships without complaint as she blazed a trail over the land which had been familiar to her as a girl, in the years before she had been captured by another tribe. Yet, even to her at times places were puzzling. There were streams that had changed their course, forests which had grown thicker. The path was covered with underbrush. The rations were getting low. Many of the expedition died and only twenty-nine remained after exhaustion and disease had killed the rest. Yet the Indian woman with her baby strapped to her back plunged on. One day, as they stopped to rest, they saw smoke signals. "Indians on the warpath," growled the weary men. Yes, Indians were coming as the white men held their fingers on the triggers of their guns. Suddenly the Indian woman rushed to the open, and in the presence of both groups she fell into the arms of the invading chief. It was her own brother. In a few days the expedition moved on into the Pacific Northwest.
It seems unbelievable that a woman could guide these rough frontiersmen in territory which they did not know, and yet this was done by an Indian woman, whose name, by the way, was Cacagawea, which means Birdwoman.
Like her, Mary, the Mother of God, is also a guide along the paths and highways of the world. In recent years there has developed a devotion to Mary as Our Lady of the Highway. How keenly we need a heavenly guide along the roads where death and serious accident wait at every turn. When we realize that in the last 14 years more people have been killed by automobiles on the highways than have been killed in all the wars of the United States, then we begin to appreciate the dangers of the highway. These are only the physical dangers.
In addition we have the moral, spiritual dangers along the highway to heaven. There is deep need for someone to guide us, someone who will be interested in us, someone who is powerful to protect and to direct. That someone is the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of the Highway. She knew what it meant to travel. She made seven special journeys.
1. Our Lady journeyed to visit her cousin, Elizabeth: "Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town of Juda. And she entered the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth... And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her own house." St. Luke, 1:39 to 56. During that lengthy and dangerous trip Mary no doubt felt discomfort and experienced the fears of wild animals and robbers.
2. Her second journey was made at the time of Christ's birth. The Bible tells us how she and St. Joseph looked for a place to rest and lodge, but they were turned from every door. St. Luke also describes this: "And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea . . . to register, together with Mary his espoused wife." St. Luke, 2:4.
3. The third journey of our Blessed Mother was made at the Purification, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to offer Him to the Lord, and in order to make the customary offering.
4. The fourth journey of Mary was into Egypt, and what an uncomfortable, dreadful trip that was. In the middle of the night an angel told St. Joseph to take Mary and the Child into a strange land to avoid the sword of Herod.
5. St. Luke also tells us about Mary's fifth journey, made when Jesus was twelve years old. Although women and children were not bound to make this particular pilgrimage, Mary and Jesus went with Joseph.
6. Another notable trip was that taken by our Blessed Mother to Cana, where Christ worked His first public miracle at the marriage feast. It meant a sacrifice for Mary to accompany Jesus i n honoring this young couple on their wedding day.
7. Mary's seventh journey was that sorrowful one to Calvary. It was a bitter, heart-rending walk with her Son struggling beneath His cruel cross. Indeed, Mary is a patroness of travelers because she made these journeys. Accordingly, it is very appropriate that we honor her as Our Lady of the Highway. Furthermore, she is interested in every phase of our lives, especially in the end of life. She does not want our lives to end in a sudden, unprepared way as so often happens on the highway.
Devotion to Our Lady of the Highway is growing. As an aid to motorists and travelers in general a new medal has been struck under that title. It was designed by a Franciscan, the Rev. Giles Lawler, of Singac, New Jersey. On the medal we read these words, "LADY OF THE HIGHWAY, BE WITH US ON OUR JOURNEY FOR THY WAYS ARE BEAUTIFUL AND ALL THY PATHS ARE PEACE." On the reverse side is the prayer:
"WE FLY TO THY PATRONAGE, O HOLY MOTHER OF GOD."
Ask Our Lady of the Highway on her feast May 24, to protect you and your loved ones and all other travelers from the material and moral dangers that beset the highways of life. Amen.
A coloring picture can be found below.