OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE: BINDING THE AMERICAS TOGETHER
(Published in Papal Alert (Archdiocese of Baltimore), Vol 2, No. 2 (Dec. 1965), p 2)
The authentic tilma of Juan Diego on which appeared the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe behind the main altar of her shrine in Mexico City. The untreated cloth should have deteriorated in about 15 years, but remains intact and in excellent condition almost five centuries later.
On April 1, 1965, I was sent to Mexico City to finalize my language training for one month before finally arriving in Peru on May 1 as a Papal Volunteer for Latin America (PAVLA). As Mary would have it, she made sure that I be placed with a family in a neighborhood about a fifteen minute walk from the great shrine of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe). It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I went there every day. It seems that since my mother and I dedicated our lives to Mary when I was in 7th Grade (about 12 years old), I seemed to stumble on one Marian shrine after another all over the world, especially in the Americas. I wrote a series of two articles from Lima, Peru May 1965 while getting my papers arranged with the Peruvian Government and arranging for teaching at the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city. The first article of the series is below.
Although she is usually identified with Latin America alone, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe is very appropriately the patroness of all the Americas. Thus she belongs to all of us.......”Yankee Gringos” and Latins alike. By this bond of common devotion we Americans –north and south-- can through Mary be united as never before especially in these most critical times.
PAVLA hopes to help its Latin American neighbors strengthen and revive the Church. In contrast it was Nuestra Senora, who on December 12, 1531 in spectacular fashion, planted the seeds of her Son's work in the New World. Her image, which miraculously appeared on the mantle of Juan Diego, contains a message, which inside the short span of seven years, brought 8,000,000 Mexican Indians to the Faith. Not since the days of the early Christians did the Faith spread as rapidly. It is no wonder that Mary is also the patroness of the missions!
Since Nuestra Senora was such an impetus to the beginning of the Faith in our hemisphere and has held the Church together through years of Mexican persecution; she can play a critical role in revitalizing and renewing our Faith, which she planted well over four centuries before. Mexico is now showing such signs. Having emerged from persecution, she is already the first Latin American country to send missionaries into the field.
The Basilica of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Mexico City (http://www.sancta.org/basilica.html) is every bit as important as Lourdes and Fatima; yet most Catholics outside of Mexico know little or nothing about the shrine and the fascinating history behind it. I myself, for example, never knew that her shrine was in Mexico City; nor was I sure that the beautiful image still existed until PAVLA placed me in a Mexican home which by chance happened to be within walking distance of the great Basilica.
As a pilgrimage center, the Basilica of Nuestra Senora hosts an average of 15,000 pilgrims per day, reaching a tremendous peak on her feast day, December 12. They come by every means of transportation from planes to rickety-rackity buses and even on foot. A tourist at first may have the impression of a superstitious faith in what seems like a carnival atmosphere in some respects. Eventually one can only become impressed by the deep faith and devotion that the simple poor exhibit.
The various groups of workers and even whole towns offer small floats of flowers with such signs as “Estamos a tus pies, Madrecita”. As an act of thanksgiving for various favors and even unauthenticated miracles, they bring flowers and often walk on their knees the 150 yard distance from the plaza entrance to the altar. Their approach certainly isn't intellectual, but they'll probably get to heaven before all of the intellectuals.
Perhaps the importance of the Basilica can be summarized in Mary's own words to Juan Diego:
“I wish and intensely desire that in this place my sanctuary be erected. Here I will demonstrate; I will exhibit; I will 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.”
One can notice here a poetic quality which is also in conformity with the Aztec style of poetry and the Hebrew as well. At the same time there is evident the literary quality of expressing one thought with an abundance and profusion of expressions.
Reflections in the Eye of the Image (See photo). As a matter of interest it may be added that recently reflections of human figures were discovered in enlarged photographs of the eyes of the image. Although there is some controversy, all of the 3 artists, 5 photographers, and 11 eye doctors who investigated this discovery, concur in seeing at least one if not three human figures in her right eye. Mr. Edward Gebhardt was easily able to duplicate this by photographing similar reflections of three persons in the eyes of a young girl (http://www.sancta.org/eyes.html).
From these findings it is believed that this divine work of art is so detailed that Juan Diego, Juan Gonzales an interpreter, and Juan de Zumarragua, the Spanish Bishop are reflected in the eyes of Nuestra Senora. There is a striking resemblance to old portraits of the first two named men. The miracle occurred as Juan Diego presented the Castillian roses, which Mary placed in his mantle as a sign from heaven. Thus we have in essence is like a colored photograph of the invisible Madre looking upon the scene. What human artist would even think of painting a microscopic reflection in an eye?
Years later in the early 1980s, my cousin Fr. Thomas Loya gave me an insight which I will add as a postscript to this section of the current article. Fr. Tom initially started out as an artist and worked professionally in Cleveland. It was then that he finally discerned the call to the priesthood. He was sent to study in Rome where he was ordained. There he was exposed to the great works of art and was enthralled by Pope John Paul II and his teachings in regard to the Theology of the Body. Now he is an international authority and speaker on the subject. Fr. Loya noted that the image cannot be a photograph because it has tiny imperfections, indicating that it is indeed a painting. What artist would go into such minute microscopic detail? At this writing they have found a computer enhanced image in the pupil of Mary's right eye, a family whose institution today is in crisis. More in another article; for now, you may go to http://www.sancta.org/eyes.html for a photo of it.
By promoting Nuestra Senora even in such little ways as hanging her picture in the various offices, homes, schools, etc. and occasionally mentioning her in conversation and correspondence, we can be her instruments as Mary fulfills her historical role of bringing souls to her Son. Since she specifically chose an American Indian, a Spanish Bishop, and a location central to both North and South America, Nuestra Senora is ideally suited to be the common patroness of our entire hemisphere. Pope John XXIII recognized the importance of the Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City by composing a prayer to her on his visit to her church in Rome seven months before his death. Similarly, John Kennedy attended Mass at the Basilica in July of 1962.
Especially because Nuestra Senora is so well adapted to the Latin American culture and has played such a vital role in its history, there is certainly a special place for Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in PAVLA promotions in the states as well as in its programs south of the border and in the private devotion of its volunteers. After all she is the great hope of our hemisphere.
Note: Much of the material used in this article is taken from the booklet, “America's Treasure” by Helen Behrens. Together with a wealth of pictures, slides, and other materials in English as well as Spanish; it is available from the English Information Center at the Basilica (Apartado 14-732, Mexico 14, D.F. ). Although 75 years old at the time, Behrens, a North American woman of great energy, had devoted her life to promoting Nuestra Senora. May she rest in peace. Materials can be obtained from