This past weekend, I was honored to join hundreds of other pastoral leaders from North and South America for a moving Pilgrimage and Encounter at the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
It was a grace for me. For one, I enjoy visiting any sanctuary where Our Lady has appeared, such as Lourdes, Fatima, or Knock.
Two, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is patroness of all America . . . that’s us!
Three, our Mexican-American Catholics, now such a vibrant part of our national Catholic makeup, have a deep and passionate devotion to her. December 12, her feast day, has become a huge fiesta for all of us in our liturgical year.
Finally, my titular (honorary) parish in Rome is called Our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s as if she keeps reminding me of how close she is to me!
In January, I’ll return there, to Guadalupe, in company with about thirty of our priests, for a retreat pilgrimage.
The purpose of our pilgrimage and encounter last weekend was to consider her as “the star of the new evangelization.”
With her apparitions to St. Juan Diego December 9-12, 1531, Mary became the first native evangelist to the new world.
Sure, the brave priests and faith filled explorers who came from Spain did indeed bring the Catholic faith and introduce it here. Evangelization was one of the principal motives for the voyages of discovery by Columbus and the others.
But they, of course, came from Europe.
Mary (granted, she came from heaven) appeared as one of the native people, in features, dress, and language, not a visitor to them but one of them, to tell them about the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus, her son. She appeared as a pregnant woman, ready to give birth to the Son of God at the exact geographical center of the Western hemisphere, the new world, Tepeyac.
And with that apparition, evangelization was unleashed, as the faith began to increase miraculously all over South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the south and west of what we now call the United States of America.
An evangelization no longer foreign but homegrown, confirmed by a young pregnant Aztec woman who consoled St. Juan Diego, “I am your mother,” and left her tender image on the Tilma for all to see.
This role was not new to her. Remember how, right after the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel had asked her to be the Mother of God’s Son – - an invitation she accepted – - she left to go see her cousin, Elizabeth? We call that event the Visitation. Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth, too, was pregnant (her son would be known as John the Baptist), and Mary went to her, not only to help her, but to let her in on the great news that the Savior was on the way, a baby in her very womb.
She hasn’t stopped evangelizing since.
The most successful evangelist America (both North and South) has ever known: a woman, a wife, a mother . . .
Our Lady of Guadalupe!