On Dec. 12, Catholics in Latino communities will commemorate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here, Christopher Posch, OFM, chair of the Province’s Hispanic Ministry Committee, describes the powerful passion Guadalupe evokes, and the many ways her feast is celebrated.
Every time I attend Spanish Mass at St. Elizabeth, Westover, Md., I notice José in the back row vested in a tank top muscle-shirt — whether it’s summer or winter — sporting the Our Lady of Guadalupe tattoo inscribed on his right arm.
One young laborer recalls a favorite childhood memory of a rotating Guadalupe nightlight spinning and blessing all sides of the room.
Many of our parishioners snuggle under thick Guadalupe wool blankets that are warm as the womb.
Guadalupe is painted on neighborhood walls and emblazoned on bumper stickers, sweatshirts, baseball caps, belts, and wristwatches. She can be found hanging off rear-view mirrors and mounted on living room walls, front doors, dashboards, and the sets of TV soap operas called novelas. Mexican padrinos, or godparents, present gold Guadalupe chains to those being baptized, confirmed, or married. Unfurnished apartments of new immigrant laborers who dine sitting on plastic crates and sleep on floor mats often have only one decoration on walls that would be otherwise barren: an image of La Madrecita, sometimes a tiny prayer card mounted with Scotch tape.
After making a formal pledge to Almighty God and Our Lady of Guadalupe called a juramento, thousands have left the slavery of alcohol and have become new creations, mending marriages that were on the rocks. Presenting a little Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer card to individuals in migrant camp dorms, trailer parks, hospital rooms, and prisons have evoked instant tears.
Simple and Powerful
Over the years, I have reflected how such a simple visitation can be so powerful.
Clearly, Our Lady of Guadalupe appears in times that are not calm, in clouds of dust that are not particularly picturesque. She first appeared 10 years after the brutal and bloody conquest of 1521. For the indigenous people, the conquest represented a total loss: Their men were killed, their women were raped, their houses burned, and their temples destroyed. So they didn’t want to live any more. Mexican-American theologian Fr. Virgil Elizondo describes this as a collective death wish. Perhaps reflecting on our pain and sense of loss after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, can begin to move us into solidarity with the survivors of the conquest.
But at this darkest moment in history, Our Lady chose to speak with great tenderness to Juan Diego, “I want to be your mother. I want to be the mother of all the inhabitants of this land. I want to protect you.”
Gabriela, a magnificent mother from Our Lady of Lourdes, Seaford, Del., ecstatically recalled a dream in which Lupita, a term of endearment, whispered in her ear, “Soy como tú. Soy como tú.” I’m just like you: morenita with olive skin; poor, clinging to God during hard times. One might say that as God became one of us by becoming human, Mary became Latina by visiting Guadalupe, dark-skinned and vested in humble indigenous attire. Such a realization bolsters faith, hope, and self esteem.
Strength and Comfort
As Guadalupe is a source of strength and consolation to the poorest of the poor in Latin America, she’s a source of comfort to new Latino immigrants in our Province and throughout the North, often working in conditions of slavery and longing for their home villages and to be awaken by church bells and roosters singing and the sounds of their mothers patting and shaping homemade tortillas.
Guadalupe also tenderly embraces the children of immigrants. Teenage parishioner Martín from St. Paul Parish, Wilmington, describes himself as “raised on Power Station and Power Rangers, rock and rap, salsa and meringue, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The kids in school messed around with me. It’s OK that my English isn’t perfect and that I like hamburgers more than tacos. All La Madre asks of me is faith.”
As I continue to ponder on the mystery of Guadalupe, I know that this reflection is incomplete. Perhaps the best advice to those who want to move towards comprehending Guadalupe is to see her with your own eyes. You may want to view thousands of pilgrims and well-known musicians venerating La Madre at the Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City on Univision on Dec. 11 from 11 p.m. until dawn.
Better yet, attend live Mañanitas and Guadalupe Masses at a nearby parish, and see the faith and devotion of neighboring pilgrims who’ve come to greet La Madre on what is said to be her birthday with festive hymns accompanied by mariachis or local parish choirs. Enjoy the fragrance of the roses and the sights of children dressed in the attire of Juan Diego and indigenous women. Be moved by those in prayer, sometimes entering the church on their knees in gratitude or supplication, silently fixing their eyes upon La Madre in reverential silence.
The church may be packed, but La Madre’s lap is big enough to hold everyone. Her embrace can hold us all.
— Fr. Chris, a resident of St. Paul Friary in Wilmington, Del., is director for Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese of Wilmington.