Some 470 years ago, amidst the songbirds in what is now southern Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a poor young Aztec, recently converted to Christianity and re-named Juan Diego. Guadalupe commanded him to communicate to the archbishop of Mexico that she wanted a church built in this Indian holy place, Tepeyac, where the subjugated and exploited indigenous peoples could come together in safety and peace, where they could taste the tenderness and saving power of God.
Juan Diego tried and was not immediately successful in his mission to convince Bishop Zumarraga to take up the task. He returns to his area of Tepeyac, discouraged in his powerlessness. Our Lady of Guadalupe assures him that she wants him to be her messenger. He is strengthened by her confidence and loving words. He sets out again with new resolve. This time he learns that his uncle is gravely ill. He stays to care for him and when it is evident he is dying, he sets off to Tlatilolco to call a priest. On his way, he encounters Guadalupe and explains sorrowfully that he needs to delay his carrying out of her request, because of his dying uncle.
She says to him, “My dear son, do not let your heart be troubled by this sickness and anguish. Am I not here with you, your Mother? Aren’t you in my shadow? In my lap? Am I not your health?”
Trusting that his uncle would be well, he was freed from his fear and worry and renewed in joy and desire to obey Our Lady of Guadalupe. He gathers the roses she directs him to cut and takes them to the bishop as response to his request for a sign from Our Lady. When he opens his rough, cactus-fiber cloak, the roses spill out and on his tilma is the image of the Lady, just as he had seen her at Tepeyac. What follows is an amazing story of conversion of both the native inhabitants and of the church.
Mexican-American scholar and priest, Virgilio Elizondo, says Juan Diego’s “yes,” like Mary’s in the gospel, made possible the manifestation of God’s healing, liberating, unifying and saving love. “In the midst of our chaos, darkness and suffering, the Word became our flesh and dwelt among us through the unsuspected entry into history of the Mestiza Virgen of Guadalupe.” Elizondo believes the greatest force of Guadalupe is how she “lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52). “Juan Diego and millions after him are transformed from crushed, self-defacing and silenced persons into confident, self-assured and joyful messengers of God’s plan for America.”
Guadalupe calls all of us in our unworthiness, our sufferings and our fears. In the tensions of our multiple demands and distractions, she enfolds and quiets us in her mantilla of compassion and of light. Her voice tenderly calls our own name, commissioning us to work tirelessly for human unity and justice and to be the temple where others experience the safety, and saving love of God.
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