Next week, on Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate a special Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for our brothers and sisters of Latin America.
Our Holy Father wants to show his solidarity with the nations of what he calls the “Continent of Hope,” where about 40 percent of all of the world’s Catholics now live.
This historic event is a reminder of the universal nature of our Catholic Church, as one family God drawn from all nations and peoples. And this occasion should cause us also to reflect on the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe as “Mother of the Americas.”
Most of us are familiar with the drama that took place on Tepeyac Hill, outside Mexico City, beginning on Dec. 9, 1531. We know how the Blessed Virgin Mary came and identified herself as “the merciful Mother of mankind” and how she asked that a temple be built “to show and make known and give all my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection to the people.”
At first, the holy Franciscan and first bishop of Mexico City, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, did not believe Juan Diego’s testimony and he asked for “proof.”
Mary gave St. Juan Diego the beautiful sign of roses and he wrapped them in his cloak or tilma and brought to the bishop. When he opened the cloak to show the bishop, they were both astounded to find that it had been “imprinted” with the miraculous image of the Lady of Tepeyac Hill.
St. Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma still hangs in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. And that series of apparitions, now nearly 500 years ago, is still filled with meaning for us.
The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe marked the turning point in the first evangelization of our continents.
She came to our lands just decades after Christopher Columbus’ voyages of discovery. She appeared in the image of a mestizo maiden — with both Spanish and Native American features — revealing in that beautiful way that she is the spiritual mother of all peoples and especially the peoples of the New World.
As we seek to continue the new evangelization of the Americas, we need to draw from both the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the missionary witness of the humble servant, St. Juan Diego.
Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe — to be Guadalupanos — means to be faithful to God and to go out of our way to share the Guadalupe message and to help make America the continent of hope.
Juan Diego was an ordinary, humble Indian — “the littlest of my children,” as Mary called him. Yet she made him one of the continent’s first evangelists, a missionary of mercy.
Juan Diego knew he was “little,” unknown and without influence among the powerful. Yet, he knew was given a divine mission. That is why he neither feared nor doubted. His answer to Our Lady was prompt, generous and courageous.
Today, Our Lady of Guadalupe calls all of us to follow Juan Diego’s example.
She calls us to tell our neighbors the good news that they are children of God, sons and daughters of our heavenly Father who loves them. She calls us to love the Church and stay close to her teachings. She calls us to make our neighborhoods and communities strong and to build a Church and a society that reflects the truth that we are one family of God.
We must open our hearts to conversion, so that like his miraculous tilma, our hearts might be imprinted with the image of the Virgin and her Son.
Like Juan Diego, we need to be content to be the “littlest.” The new evangelization is not necessarily a matter of doing extraordinary things. It is about living our faith fully and giving witness of it in our daily lives — in our families, in our studies, at work, and among our friends and neighbors.
And we can do this with blessed assurance. What the Virgin of Tepeyac promised to Juan Diego, she promises to each of us: “Do not let your ... heart be disturbed. Am I not here, I who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection ... in the hollow of my mantle? Do you need anything more?”
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you. I pray that this will be the best Advent ever for you and your families!
And let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to win for us the grace we need to become better Guadalupanos.