Bishop's Column

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, Star of the New Evangelization

On a cold December morning, a widower named Juan Diego climbed the Tepeyac Hill, on his way to Mass. He’d climbed the hill hundreds of times before, but on this morning he stopped, because he heard someone call his name. He followed the voice until he saw a beautiful woman dressed as an Aztec princess who spoke to him in his native language. She called him by name and she called him her "little son."

The woman Juan Diego saw was surrounded by radiant light. She glowed when she spoke to him. The woman was Mary, the Mother of God. Juan Diego had met Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A few days later they met again. She told Juan Diego that a shrine should be built in her honor and she told him about love: a love that can be trusted, a love that gives dignity, a love that is personal. Speaking in his language, she said that she would "give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes."

Juan Diego was moved.  He went to see the bishop to insist upon a shrine. He went with his tilma, or tunic, filled with roses that Our Lady had given him. When he opened the tilma before the bishop, an image of Our Lady was imprinted on the cloth.

The image was miraculous. It depicted a woman in the royal clothing of Mexico’s native people. Her robe was covered in the flowers which symbolized eternity to the Aztecs. Emanating from her was the sun, suggesting that she was the mother of light, and for the Aztecs, the mother of the gods. She is shown in a position of prayer, and behind are stars significant in the Aztec calendar. In short, everything about Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearance was a proclamation, in language familiar to the natives of Mexico, that she was the Mother of God, and that her son was the Lord of the Universe.

I am writing to you this week from Rome, where I am attending a conference on the New Evangelization in America in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation: Ecclesia in America (the Church in America). The conference takes place during the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, because she is the patroness of evangelization in America. We began on Sunday evening with a personal welcome from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

The New Evangelization is a term that many of us have heard, but is not always understood. It is a term used by Blessed John Paul II to express to Catholics the importance of finding new ways to proclaim the Gospel—new methods, terms, and approaches to reach people for whom Christianity is largely a relic of the past. The New Evangelization is, in many ways, a call to imitate the witness of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

When she appeared in America in 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe did not speak in Latin, the language of the Church, or in Spanish, the language of Franciscan missionaries. She spoke in native languages. And she used the symbolism, the culture, of the native people to proclaim the Gospel. Our Lady of Guadalupe expressed the Christian message in a way that could be understood by people whose culture and language were very different from what the Church was accustomed to.

As Blessed John Paul wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation:

"The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization. Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole continent… [which] has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly enculturated evangelization" (11).

We live in times where, for many people, the culture and traditions of the Church seem foreign and ancient. The Gospel often seems irrelevant because people presume they know what it entails. But sadly, many of our neighbors and relatives, our friends and coworkers, have not heard the love and hope of God proclaimed. The New Evangelization is our commitment to finding ways to express the Church’s message—that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that his love is all-consuming.

Here in Rome, we’ve discussed the New Evangelization with bishops and priests, but also with laymen and women from all walks of life. The New Evangelization belongs to all of us. Our Lady of Guadalupe did not appear to a bishop or priest. She appeared to a farmer, a widower, a grandfather. The responsibility of her message, and the message of the Gospel was his. But she gave him the tools—the miraculous image on his tilma—to proclaim the truth. Through the witness of St. Juan Diego, and the miracles of Our Lady of Guadalupe, millions of people have become Catholics, and came to know Jesus Christ.

I pray that we will imitate the New Evangelization of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And inspired by her, and with her aid and intercession, I pray that we will commit to proclaiming the Gospel in new ways—and that our culture will be transformed for Jesus Christ. For this reason, she is not only the Patroness of all of the Americas, but the Star of the first and new evangelization who will "guide the Church in America… so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life" (12).

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