A Dominican Sister reflects: Scripture: Zech 2:14-17, Lk 1:26-38
We have just heard 2 announcements – 2 different “annunciations”. The 1st from the prophet Zechariah is: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! … I am coming to dwell among you – you of many nations, cultures and languages.” In the gospel Gabriel is the messenger to Mary, saying “Hail, full of grace”. In Spanish, the greeting is “alégrate, or rejoice and be happy”… for Mary was chosen to bear the Son of the Most High God – for all peoples.
In the context of today’s feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we find Mary as the announcer, the messenger. For millions of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, December 12th holds special significance. It marks the date in 1531 when Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous Christian peasant, in the last of several apparitions in Tepeyac near present-day Mexico City. She appeared as a dark-skinned woman who spoke Nahuatl, Juan Diego’s native language and identified herself saying: “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” Thus he was chosen to be messenger to the bishop to ask for the construction of a house, a “casita”, on the hill. You have heard other parts of the story: of his visit to the Bishop who needed proof, of the beautiful Castilian roses Mary directed him to cut in wintertime, and which she arranged in his tilma (cloak)… And how in a return visit to the bishop a life-size image of the Virgin Mary was found imprinted on the inside of his rough cloak. This enculturated image is known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
How did she become such a powerful symbol of Mexican identity and faith to the present day? – associated with everything from motherhood to feminism to social justice and Patroness of the Americas? What was it that touched so deeply into their very souls that led them to revere her as the ultimate symbol of goodness?
This question intrigued me when I was privileged to share 2 years of ministry at Centro Santa Catalina in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. I worked alongside the women of the sewing cooperative, and of course, with their children close by. These women became messengers to me, revealing why “Nuestra Señora”, our mother of Guadalupe was so dear to them. They did so mostly without words, and demonstrating who she was in their lives. Early December I saw them making big, beautiful, bright paper roses to adorn her painting in the coop. They made their program, and carried in costumes and food; the workshop became their auditorium, called in the children and intoned the hymns. Then the women continued the religious tradition by re-enacting the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.[Here I need to interject that it’s important to remember the historical context, because Mary´s apparitions were seen only ten years after the conquest of central Mexico by the Spanish, at a time when the indigenous people of the Americas were being devastated.]
The women of Centro Santa Catalina re-enacted the drama in colorful costumes before us in the crowded room. I saw their eyes dancing as they proudly depicted Mary, the brown-skinned woman who wore a sash that indicated she was pregnant, and Juan Diego, a poor indigenous peasant. Later during the Fiesta I spoke with a small group and thanked them for sharing their story with me. One summed it all up, stating succinctly: She is JUST LIKE US…ONE OF US! It’s a story that incorporates all of the senses. I understood that she is the ultimate Mexican mother. And who doesn’t love their mother? No wonder they sing their hearts out in the well-known hymn: “La Guadalupana …came to Tepeyac…Our Mother of Guadalupe came to us! She was ONE of us too!
What do all these announcements say to us today? I was reminded me of a TED Talk given by Pope Francis on “The revolution of tenderness” who said: “[Tenderness] is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future…To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our hearts to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”
Francis concluded saying: The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” “This is the revolution of tenderness”…
Isn´t this Our Lady of Guadalupe’s lovely multicultural message to each and all of us today on her feast?
Rose Ann Schlitt, OP