“Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?”
Tomorrow is 12/12/12. It’s also the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary icon and the patron saint of Mexico. Mexicans in Mexico and the United States will wake up early and head to Mass to welcome the day singing Las Mañanitas to La Virgencita.
For those not familiar with the story, beginning December 9, 1531, Mary appeared three separate times to an Indian named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzín on Tepeyac Hill. (In pre-Columbian Mexico, this area was the sight of a temple for the goddess Tonantzín. The Spanish destroyed it, of course, and dedicated the sight to the Virgin Mary.) She asked Juan Diego to convey a message to the bishop: build a church for her on that spot. The bishop asked for proof, so Mary placed some red roses in Juan Diego’s tilma (cloak). He took them to the bishop, and the roses spilled out when he opened the cloak, revealing the image of Mary imprinted on it. This tilma is now on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Various examinations over the years have uncovered many things in the image. Ophthalmologists, using infrared photography, later enhanced on a computer, found images of people in both eyes, in the positions in which they would be found in human eyes. The hands, placed in a position of prayer and resting on her stomach, have been modified to shorten the fingers. The golden stars, moon and angel were added later. Only these altered parts of the tilma have faded in its almost 500 years of existence.
The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world.1 There are many churches throughout the world that bear her name, and millions of people who have been named after her, including my beloved grandmother.
Why is there still a profoundly deep devotion to La Virgen? Why do Mexicans in Mexico and in the United States take her image with them wherever they go? What is the attraction to her?
“‘¡Se quedó!’ So answered a simple Indian woman when asked what was so uniquely special about Our Lady of Guadalupe: she stayed. Powerful! She came, she loved, she entered into our hearts, she is ever present to us. She is not difficult to get to: we can touch her, see her, and listen to her story.”1
After the Spanish invasion of Mexico, the conquerors became conquered, the subjugators became subjugated, the powerful were now powerless. Guadalupe’s apparition gave strength to the indigenous peoples. She had appeared as an Indian woman, she had spoken in Nahuatl, she spread the message that all were precious in her eyes, all were precious in God’s eyes. She gave hope to a people without hope. The atheists will add that she made the complete conquest of Mexico possible by converting the Indians to Catholicism, by enslaving them to the church.
I prefer to think that she empowered the people, and she continues to give us strength today. Found in a new land, Mexicans are a minority often despised and exploited; Guadalupe speaks to us and continues to give us an experience of heaven, where all are equal. “Her compassionate rostro y corazón (countenance and heart) are alive not only on the tilma of Juan Diego but also in the faces and hearts of all who see her, call upon her, and believe in her. She is here among us where and when we need her; she is always present to rehabilitate the broken, uplift the downtrodden, console the afflicted, accompany the lonely, and give life to the dying. She has a source of energy and inspiration for many who have struggled for liberty and justice in the Americas: for Father Miguel Hidalgo, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Adelita Navarro, Samuel Ruíz, and for many others who have found their heroic strength for survival within her. She continues to be what she said she was: the merciful Mother who is with us to give us all her love, compassion, help, and protection-to hear our laments and remedy and cure all the miseries, pains, and sorrows.”2
Whether or not I make it to Las Mañanitas early tomorrow morning at St. Rose, I will say a special prayer to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the patron saint of my ancestral homeland.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi. “To no other nation has this been done.” (Psalm 147)
2 “Our Lady of Guadalupe: Faith and Empowerment among Mexican-American Women.” Jeanette Rodríguez. Forward by Fr. Virgilio Elizondo.
3 “Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation.” Virgil Elizondo