Millennial writer Nichole Flores writes:
As I was growing up in a Mexican-American family, Guadalupe was everywhere, but most notably in the face of my grandmother, María Guadalupe García Flores. A humble woman without much formal education, her faith guided her as she raised 12 children amid immense poverty in rural Nebraska. My grandmother embodied a distinctly Guadalupan presence: prayerful, patient, joyful and strong. Whether nurturing a child, a friendship or a garden, she knew how to help things grow. In her habits of magnifying the Lord and lifting up the lowly, she emulated Guadalupe by illuminating God’s pervasive beauty and good news to the poor. It was my grandmother’s witness to beauty and justice that led to my own fascination with Guadalupe. Beginning with the presentation I made in seventh grade about my family’s history and continuing in my academic research in theology and ethics, I have longed to know more about my grandmother’s namesake and what her symbol means for the church and the world.
Indeed, the world has taken notice of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her image can be found everywhere: at gas stations and train stations, at bars and on border fences, on cars and in cathedrals. For Mexican-Americans, especially, life has long been imbued with her presence, and Mexican people inspired by her ethos. Whether one encounters her image at a bus stop, a chapel or a public monument, Guadalupe is inevitably accompanied by disagreements about the meaning of her symbol. Her image has been emblazoned on protest banners for the United Farm Workers and leveraged as a logo for Banamex, the second largest bank in Mexico. Catholic pro-life groups invoke her as a symbol of their cause, her image prominent on rosary beads and protest signs on the National Mall during the annual March for Life.
Latin American and feminist theologians, artists, and writers have reimagined the sedate and obedient Virgin as an ordinary woman experiencing the joys and challenges of sexuality, work and motherhood as exemplified by Yolanda López’s “Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe.” López portrays Guadalupe as a young woman running, a middle-aged woman working at a sewing machine and an elderly woman in a seated position. Each portrait emphasizes the beauty and particularity of ordinary women while using elements of the Guadalupe image to accentuate a particular dimension of Our Lady. The range of values and visions mapped onto her image reveal her contested meaning for Catholicism, culture and the common good.
And what she means matters, as Guadalupe’s symbolism has urgent significance for the future of the church. Latina and Latino Catholics comprise an increasingly large share of Catholics in the United States, representing a majority of millennial generation Catholics (54 percent, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops). At the same time, the percentage of Latino and Latina Catholics far exceeds the percentage of Latino deacons, priests and bishops. Culturally competent clergy are needed to serve the U.S. church. These demographic realities raise concerns about the church’s capacity to meet the pastoral needs of the Latino faithful. Understanding the power of Guadalupe can help the larger church understand the Latino Catholic population. And an understanding of Guadalupe must be rooted in an understanding of her history….
Many U.S. parishes have welcomed images of Guadalupe into their sanctuaries. Others have welcomed her to sit in their pews. But is the church in the United States ready to let Guadalupe lead? If so, the church stands to benefit from the presence of her comfort, strength, nurture, empowerment, beauty and love of justice. As Guadalupe’s presence continues to proliferate across the United States, she calls upon the church to respond to the presence of Latinas in a unique way. She comes offering not only spiritual comfort but also ecclesial empowerment. She comes not only for prayerful devotion but also for public action. She comes not to orient women to men but to orient women to Jesus Christ. On her feast day, La Virgen de Guadalupe gestures toward the future of the American church, one where women are not passive objects in the pews but empowered leaders whose full range of gifts is cherished by the church.
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