Week of December 11, 2000
Celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe
Pope links new Marian feast with new evangelization
By GLEN ARGAN
In December 1531, the Blessed Virgin appeared twice near what is now Mexico City to Juan Diego, a recently-baptized Aztec Indian. The apparition came on the heels of the Spanish Conquest that had brought horrific suffering to the Aztecs, the loss of millions of lives and the destruction of their civilization.
At the top of a hill Juan Diego saw a beautiful mestizo lady, surrounded by light like the sun and dressed in an Aztec robe in a way that indicated she was expecting a child. Her appearance was a sign of Mary's love for the Aztec people, a sign that she was in solidarity with them in their suffering.
Mary instructed Juan Diego to ask the local bishop to have a church built in her honour on the hill of the apparition - Tepeyac. Tepeyac was the site of an indigenous shrine to the goddess Tonantzin and was located far away from the centre of the evangelizing efforts of the Spaniards.
The bishop was skeptical and so a few days later Juan Diego returned to the bishop with a gift from Mary - roses he had picked which were growing out of season at Tepeyac. When Juan Diego opened his cloak to let the roses fall to the floor, an image of Mary, just as she had appeared on the hillside, was emblazoned on his cloak.
The bishop saw this as a miracle and less than two years later had a church built at Tepeyac. But more than that, the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe led to a mass conversion of the Aztecs and an end to their practice of infant sacrifice.
Until now, the Catholic Church has had 15 liturgical feasts in honour of the Virgin Mary. They range in importance from Mary, the Mother of God, on Jan. 1 to the somewhat apocryphal Presentation of Mary on Nov. 21. In 1994, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe became a minor optional feast on the Canadian liturgical calendar; this week, it becomes a full feast with all the trimmings.
In 1945, Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of the Americas. This was a declaration taken more seriously in South America than in the North. In 1999, Pope John Paul decreed that the Dec. 12 feast be celebrated throughout all of America.
The pope expressed the hope that Mary "will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church, so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life" (The Church in America, 11).
By linking Our Lady of Guadalupe with the "new evangelization," the pope meant he was hoping that Mary would not only lead more people to attend Sunday Mass, but the faith would permeate the whole culture, including education, the family, politics and economics.
At the very least, he wants an end to the separation of faith and life, that odiferous situation where even public figures claim to be "good Catholics" and yet take stands diametrically opposed to the Church's teaching. More positively, the new evangelization calls for a fusion of faith and life.
The liturgy for the feast is linked with the Church's call for justice and peace. The "Responsorial Psalm" is actually Mary's canticle in which she praises the Lord by saying: "The Lord has brought the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty."
In the Opening Prayer, we ask the Father to "Set your justice in our hearts that your peace will reign in the world."
In his letter The Church in America, the pope followed his discussion of Our Lady of Guadalupe by listing signs of the times in America. It is a wide-ranging list including popular piety and the Church's role in education and social action as well as globalization, respect for human rights, external debt and ecological concern.
In the new evangelization, we ask that Mary be our partner in resolving the massive social problems that afflict our continent. Indeed, by calling North and South America one continent, the pope relies on his belief that the great wealth of the North cannot be seen as a phenomenon separate from the dire poverty of the South.
In fact, that was the very message he enunciated so forcibly in a farmer's field north of Edmonton in 1984.
The message remains the same for us today. The gap between rich and poor has grown much wider, especially when viewed across all of America. Any progress we have made in empowering people has been outstripped by a narrow form of globalization that makes profits far more important than human needs.
But now we have help from above. The pope has given us Our Lady of Guadalupe as a patron if we take seriously the Gospel's call to "fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty."
This is an important new feast. Our Lady of Guadalupe gave the Aztec people hope in the midst of their oppression. She transformed their culture with a greater respect for human life. May she open our hearts and our culture to the fullness of life that God has to offer.
(The Edmonton Archdiocese will mark the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. with Archbishop Thomas Collins celebrating a special Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica.)