Navigating the Faith: Our Lady of Guadalupe

by Fr. Mark Watson, Pastor, St. Patrick Parish and Sacred Heart Parish

Central to the spiritual lives of Mexican Catholics is Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In my Hispanic ministry I have experienced both the love that Mexican people have for Our Lady of Guadalupe and the devotion which flows from this love.

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe began in 1517 when the Spanish explorer Cortez discovered the Yucatan, and on Good Friday of 1519 when he landed in Mexico.  He brought with him Spanish culture which was centered on Catholicism and its call to bring pagans to the faith. Cortez and his men encountered Mexican native tribes which had their own world of scientific advancements, religious beliefs, political and economic practices and educational processes. The Aztecs believed their culture was coming to an end. This would come about as a result of their encounter with the Spanish. The fighting began in April of 1521 and the tribes were finally defeated on August 13, 1521. After the defeat, there was a sense of despair among the natives and a lack of interest in converting to Catholicism.

The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe took place on Saturday, December 9, 1531, early in the morning on the hill of Tepeyac, on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Tepeyac was the place where the virgin mother of the gods was venerated by the native people. Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, a poor Christian Indian of middle age. At the top of the hill he saw a lady of glowing beauty. She was also a native who spoke a native language. She revealed that she was “the ever holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God” and told Juan Diego that she desired that he ask the bishop to build a temple to her below the hill. The bishop told Juan Diego that he would only believe him if Juan Diego would bring a sign from the Lady.

When Juan Diego next saw the Lady she told him to go to the top of the hill where he would find flowers, which he was to cut and bring to her.  He found roses of Castile and brought them to the Lady who rearranged them in his tilma or outer garment. She told him to open the tilma in front of the bishop and afterwards he would agree to her request. Juan Diego opened his tilma and the roses fell to the floor in front of the bishop.  The bishop recognized them as roses from Castile, his homeland, and ordered that a Cathedral be built in honor of Our Lady.
On the tilma was the exact representation or image of the Lady who had appeared to Juan Diego.

The following is the meaning of the various parts of the image.

Her dress was of a pale red color.  Red symbolized the East, the area from which the sun arises at the beginning of a new day. Thus red was the sign of a new beginning, of the continuation of new life and of life through death.

The predominant color of the painting is the blue-green of the mantle. This turquoise was the royal color of the gods and its use was reserved to the deities and royalty showing that she must be of divine, or at least royal origin. It was also the color which signified fecundity and life which comes out of opposing tensions.

The stars on the mantle of the Lady announced, in the native concept of time, the beginning of a new civilization.

In the image, the Lady is being carried by an angel. Only royalty and the representatives of the gods were carried by others. Being carried by an angel also represented the beginning of a new era.

The Lady hides the sun but does not extinguish it. The sun was the greatest of the gods in the native pantheon. Our Lady is shown to be greater than the greatest god.

She stands upon the moon.  One of the greatest gods was the moon god.  She is shown to be greater than the moon god but she does not do away with it or crush it.

Around her waist is a black maternity band which shows that she is with child.

Over her navel is found an Indian cross which shows that the child she carries in her womb marks the center of the universe.  She wears a broach close to her neck with a Christian cross showing that she is both a bearer and follower of Christ.

When all seemed lost, Our Lady of Guadalupe brought Christ to the sufferings of the natives of Mexico. Six years after the conquest, nine million Mexicans had converted to Christianity. From her intervention a whole new civilization was created from two different cultures. She continues to be a model of  protection for the oppressed and of bringing together ethnic and racial groups. May Our Lady of Guadalupe be our model of Evangelization as we bring others to her Son, Jesus Christ.

(This article is based on the book La Morenita:  Evangelizer of the Americas by Virgilio Elizondo.)

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