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2011
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The dawn of a new evangelization: the feast-day of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe

Jerusalem, Parish Church of St. Saviour, 12th December 2011

The Solemn Mass in Spanish was celebrated in the afternoon of Monday 12th December in the parish church of St. Saviour for the feast-day of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, the patron saint and Queen of Mexico, the Americas and the Philippines. For this special occasion, many religious from different congregations, many of whom of South American origin, as well as countless members of the Latin American and Filipino Christian communities in Israel, together with local Arabic-speaking Christians, and friends and collaborators of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land gathered in front of the altar and the icon of the Virgin, splendidly decorated with roses and enveloped in light blue veils with small stars. The concelebration was presided by the Custos, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, with the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores, and the current Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate for Cyprus, Brother Evencio Herrera Diaz. The many religious and priests who wanted to pay homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe on her feast-day took up their place at the sides of the altar. They included numerous Franciscan friars from the Custody and Father Guy Tardivy o.p., the prior of the Dominican community at the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française of Jerusalem.

In his homily, Brother Herrera briefly told the story of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec who had converted to Christianity, to whom the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared several times, between 9th and 12th December 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac, north of Mexico City. Juan Diego, a poor and uneducated Indian, simple but with a limpid Christian faith, was asked by Mary to build a shrine in her honour at the foot of the hill of the apparitions. He had great difficulty in winning over the trust and understanding of the Bishop to whom he related his miraculous meetings. The Virgin Mary offered Juan Diego a sign to show as proof of the truth of his words: beautiful roses, which blossomed out of season on the desolate stony land of the hill. When, in front of the Bishop, Juan Diego opened his cloak (tilmàtli) to show him the flowers he had picked, the image of the Virgin Mary remained impressed immediately on the cape, before the very eyes of all those present. A chapel was built straight away on the spot of the apparitions and in 1557 was replaced by a larger chapel and, afterwards, by a proper shrine consecrated in 1622. Finally, the present-day Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was inaugurated in 1976. Juan Diego’s cloak is kept in the shrine, with on it the image of Mary who has the facial features of a young Indian woman. Due to the dark colour of her skin, She is called by the faithful Virgen morenita (the métisse Virgin). “The Madonna of Guadalupe,” continued Brother Herrera, “represents the face of God that is shown to the Mexican people, with the dark coloured skin like that of the native peoples of America with whom the Spaniards came into contact on their arrival, or rather, with métisse features, wishing for and anticipating the encounter and integration between the indigenous peoples and the Spaniards.” The Virgin of Guadalupe is the dawn of a new evangelization, she anticipates a new and original enculturation of the Christian faith, which will flourish in the peculiarities and creativity of a whole continent. Pope John Paul II wrote: “The evangelizing event of Mary of Guadalupe penetrated the dominant Aztec culture, ten years after the conquest, and she was perceived as the new sun, the creator of harmony between the elements in combat, opening up another era. This evangelizing presence, with the métisse image of Mary who combines two races, represents a historic milestone of creativity connatural to a new Christian culture in a country and, in parallel, in a continent. For this reason, the Conference of Puebla can rightly say that “The Gospel incarnate in our peoples unites them in a historical and cultural originality that we call Latin America. This identity is very luminously symbolized by the métisse face of Mary of Guadalupe, which marks the start of evangelization ” (Puebla, 446). […] Indeed, the cohesion around the essential values of the Mexican nation is formed around a fundamental value which for the Mexican – as for the Latin American – was Christ, presented by Mary of Guadalupe. For this reason, She, with obvious reference to her Son, became the centre of the popular religiosity of the Mexican people and their culture, and has been present in the decisive moments of individual and collective life.”

God’s project is therefore accomplished through unexpected paths, calling on a humble Indian, but whose faith, virtues of the soul and sensitivity of the heart were known to the Lord, to collaborate. Juan Diego was thus to become the messenger of the Madonna of Guadalupe, the intermediary between the people of God and the Virgin, catechist and missionary, because God calls all to saintliness. The métisse Virgin, as the bicentenary of independence is being commemorated in various places in Latin America, is therefore still the symbol today of a “vocation for hope” and invites all those who entrust themselves to her to promote and protect human life in all its phases, from conception to its end, the sacramental dimension of the family and its educating mission, and universal peace.

At the end of the Holy Mass, all those present took part in the procession with the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe from the Church of St. Saviour to the Custodial Curia, crossing the courtyard. In the Curia, after the solemn blessing, there was a very enjoyable convivial moment, during which it was possible to sample some typical dishes of Mexican cuisine.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Marco Gavasso

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