Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
(Revelation 11:19a.12:1-6a.10ab; Luke 1:26-38)
In his apostolic exhortation, entitled The Church in the America, Blessed John Paul II declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the “Evangelizer of the Americas.” The story of her apparitions to the native Juan Diego bears witness to the title.
In 1531, seven years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, the missionaries were unable to make significant inroads among the people. There were a few converts like Juan Diego but nothing like the mass numbers that came into the Church after the apparitions. Perhaps it was the intransigence of the missionaries to go to the centers of prior indigenous worship that restricted evangelization. The account of the apparitions is well known. The Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego on the morning of December 9 on Tepeyac hill outside Mexico City, the site of a previous temple to a pagan goddess. Speaking in the indigenous language, she introduced herself to him as “the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God by whom one lives, creator of heaven and earth.” Then she dispatched Juan Diego to Bishop Zumárraga in Mexico City with a request that a church be built on the spot of the apparition so that she might aid the indigenous people. The bishop met with Juan Diego but demanded a sign before he would believe his story. The sign came three days later when, at the mandate of the Virgin, Juan Diego brought to the bishop flowers which he found growing quite out of season at the summit of Tepeyac. When Juan Diego let the flowers fall from his tilma (outer garment) the image of the pregnant Virgin dressed as a native princess was emblazoned on it. From the retelling of the story by the natives themselves within six years nine million indigenous Mexicans became Catholic Christians.
This account underscores for us several principles of the New Evangelization. First, the New Evangelization begins with our relationship with Jesus being renewed. Both Juan Diego and Bishop Zumárraga experience a deepening of their faith through the encounter with the Virgin of Guadalupe representing her son. Second, along with spiritual renewal, we need to increase our knowledge of the faith. The Virgin gives Juan Diego a short doctrinal lesson with her introduction as “the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God by whom one lives.” The facts that she appears on the site of a former pagan temple and speaking the native tongue also indicate cultural aspects of evangelization. Finally, once evangelized, we have to give witness to the good news be retelling the story and, although not apparent here, by living it.
In this “Year of Faith” Pope Benedict has challenged all serious Catholics to take up the work of the New Evangelization. The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Evangelizer of the Americas, indicates the contours of this task.