I arrived late. The crowd was pressed in tightly. Layers and layers of winter clothing seemed to double the size of each person. Despite the throng, all attention was focused on a parade of icons making its way down the central aisle of the church. Cell phones were held high from nearly every hand trying to capture pictures of the procession. Once the icons had traveled the full length of the cathedral basilica, they turned at the altar and moved down a side aisle toward the back of the church where another altar featured a two-story mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mariachi serenaded each step.
Eventually the icons and coronas made of living flowers were situated around the large mosaic. Then the bishop and concelebrating priests processed. Small children were everywhere underfoot. Many of the boys dressed as St. Juan Diego, the recently canonized Mexican peasant who saw the apparition of Our Lady that eventually became the basis for this feast day celebrated on December 12th. Younger girls might be clothed in colorful native dress that includes a tilma or cloak imprinted with an image of Mary surrounded by rays of light. This would be the same image that appeared on his tilma when Juan Diego was before the bishop presenting his case for the construction of a church in her honor.
Most of the thousand in attendance at the Mass had started the late evening journey to the center city cathedral from their home parishes in other neighborhoods, some from as far as four miles away. They braved the crisp winter air with their children packed into strollers in order to honor the “Patroness of the Americas”. It was the Millennial pope, John Paul II, who declared her thus. And yet, within that crowd there were only a handful of faces that might have been from places north of the Mexican border. Why doesn’t my whole generation consider her our patroness? Why isn’t it common outside of the Mexican community to practice devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Not only did the Virgin Mary appear to Juan Diego, an indigenous countryman, she also appeared as one of his own people. She spoke in his language. This vision took on a prophetic quality for those who had been marginalized and oppressed under the Spanish occupation in the 15th and 16th centuries. As my friend Mike said earlier, “By appearing to Juan Diego, Mary asserts that she stands with those who are on the margins of society. ‘I am one of you,’ Our Lady of Guadalupe suggests.” This is the Virgin for our time and for our generation. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the ideal intercessor for an increasingly global community of believers who are heeding a call to create more just systems and societies that include the voices of all.