This coming December 12th we will be once again celebrating the apparition and miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when at the foot of the Tepeyac Hill in Mexico she appeared to San Juan Diego, a native Aztec. The story of the four apparitions has been told for 5 centuries to multiple generations and it continues warming up the hearts of Christians in all the Americas.
The miracle of Guadalupe marked the beginning of the largest peaceful conversion to Christianity in history. The Spanish missionaries of several religious orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits) had tried for almost ten years to bring the native Aztecs to the light of Christ’s Gospel. They were trying to overcome a well-developed religion that celebrated warrior gods that had defeated their enemies in majestic battles that created the sun, the stars, and the mountains. The white conquerors had destroyed most of their temples and sacrificial altars. The God of the friars was hanging from a wooden cross, dead and defeated. He showed no heroic armors nor daring weapons. Also, the teachings of this new God were about earthly sacrifice to gain a greater reward in the next life. For years they had sacrificed other humans in order to have a better life on Earth. The cultural clash was so great that only few were converting and accepting the true light.
The apparition of Guadalupe brought a whole new light in the Evangelization of the New World. Her message of hope and maternal love hit the core of their hearts and minds. Moreover, her physical appearance gave them an image both familiar and prophetic to them. Her face looked as one of them, as if she had been born in the Great Tenochtitlan. She proclaimed herself as the mother of the true and living God in their own language. The gods they had known only communicated through the priests. The mother of the living God was speaking to a regular and humble man and he could talk back to her. Moreover, she asked him to contact the higher priest asking for a new temple. Her skin color though was different. It wasn’t white nor that of the Aztecs. It was a bronze colored skin that would bring the birth of a new race: the mestizo. She asked for a temple where her children could worship the true God, that one that looked dead on the cross but that had risen from death with a victory much greater and daring than that of the warrior gods of their parents.
The message of the Virgin Mary at the Tepeyac was much different than the other major Marian apparitions such as the one at Lourdes and Fatima. The apparitions in Europe spoke of penitence and the conversion of sinners. Guadalupe brought a message of motherly love and comfort in this life. “Do not be afraid. Am I not here, I who am your mother? Aren’t you under my shadow? Aren’t I your health? These words came more in tune with the Aztec tradition of a protective mother. A mother that speaks on behalf of the true God, her Son and therefore has direct intercession with Him.
The message of Guadalupe led to the conversion of over 9 million Aztecs in the next two decades. The ripple effect of the message of motherly love and protection would continue reaching beyond the borders of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which were as far north as Colorado and Utah and as far south as Costa Rica. Her promise as well was not limited to the Spanish colonies, she had claimed the entire New World to her Son’s Kingdom and it would be, over time, become the largest cradle of Catholics in the world. 48% of Catholics in the world live in the Americas. Pope Saint John Paul II declared December 12 as the Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe, naming her Empress and Patroness of the Americas.
The story of Guadalupe continues bringing thousands back to the Church and giving hope to millions of Catholics (and thousands of non-Catholics) for a better future in a divided and uncertain world. When we face anger, confusion, and fear in our environment, when things seem to get worse and the horizon presents itself with dark clouds, let us remember the message of Guadalupe, the Star of the New Evangelization for all the Americas, Latinos, Anglos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Natives: “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. 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 you need?
By Antonio Bañuelos
State Deputy, Iowa Knights of Columbus