Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 8, 2003
Little dark virgin is much loved
Take no guns to Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine
Our Lady of Guadalupe -- Feast Day -- December 12
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
San Antonio, Texas
Almost more impressive than the modest brick church, huge script on a sign proclaims the identity of Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
It's always a pleasure to visit this shrine to Our Lady, an easy #68 "Guadalupe" bus ride from the city centre at San Fernando Cathedral. Once there, visitors are sure to meet parishioners who man a little permanent kiosk tucked into a corner beside the church.
It advertises "Articulos Religiosos" above a discreet (and compulsory) bilingual sign - "Please no guns permitted on these premises." Beyond these notices, pleasant staffers sell a variety of religious items, including a selection of Guadalupe calendars featuring images of Our Lady and St. Juan Diego.
And they'll insist that visitors examine the impressive glossy commemorative booklet that features the visit in 1987 of Pope John Paul to their church. They have a claim to fame here since they and their friends figure prominently in the pages of this precious souvenir.
When the large, thriving city of San Antonio was included in his itinerary, the pope insisted on visiting the unobtrusive Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here in the near-downtown West End barrio, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated with descendants of the original settlers of old San Antonio de Bexar.
Over the years, this parish, administered by Jesuit priests and brothers, has been a focal point for social reform. Clergy have initiated many projects designed to materially improve the neighbourhood and the lives of its residents.
Mass was said out of doors in Plaza Guadalupe in front of the church to accommodate the large crowd. His holiness spoke to the people in Spanish, mother tongue of many in the parish and the district, his homily touching on topics such as the sacramental life, Marian devotion and religious vocations.
This regional shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe recalls the appearance of the Mother of God to Juan Diego in 1531 on Tepeyac Hill at Mexico City. Now recognized as the patron of all the Americas, veneration of this appellation of Mary has spread throughout both Western continents.
Visitors passing through the centre door of the church beneath a painted scene of Juan Diego's encounter with the Virgin Mary enter a surprisingly large nave with colonnaded side aisles. The main altar, ornamented with colourful serapes, is backed by the traditional image of Our Lady as she appeared on the Mexican ranchero's tilma.
Stained glass windows flanking the altar tell the story of the apparitions. Friendly clergy and staff in the rectory next door will produce an informative brochure to guide visitors through another 30 unconventional windows in the church. The work of artist Rudy Garcia and designer Al Medina, they were dedicated on the feast day in 2000 and portray in a stylized form, themes that incorporate old Mexican motifs into traditional symbolic Church art.
The great feast on Dec. 12 of the Empress of All the Americas follows closely those of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) and St. Juan Diego (Dec. 9). The event occupies several days including an all-night vigil in the form of a serenata to the Virgin.
Beginning on the eve of the feast it includes popular mariachi groups serenading Our Lady. Processions with Aztec dancers and Masses follow, the homilies usually replaced by re-enactments of the Guadalupe story. And the air is filled with music and enthusiastically shouted gritos as the people honour nuestra madrecita, their own little mother and "la Morenita," the little dark virgin.
And they echo the final words of the Holy Father's memorable homily at the Santuario de Nuestra de Guadalupe - "Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe" - "Viva!"