Father Virgilio Elizondo is a leading national authority on the history and influence of Mary’s apparition in Mexico in 1521. He spoke with Today’s Catholic recently about the ongoing influence of the Mexican-American icon, whose feast day is Dec. 12.
Today’s Catholic: Father Elizondo, in your opinion, to what current demographic does Our Lady of Guadalupe appeal the most?
Father Elizondo: I don’t think her relevance can be confined to any one age group or another. She still endures. She still calls all of her children to see her at her temple. “Am I not here who is your Mother?” she said. A mother is there for all of her children, of any age and no matter what country they find themselves in.
Today’s Catholic: Does Our Lady of Guadalupe continue to be relevant to Mexicans and to Mexican-Americans?
Father Elizondo: Oh absolutely, but she’s more and more relevant to Anglos and all the inhabitants of this land as well. Ever since Pope John Paul II declared her the mother of all of America — really, even before that became official — her influence and recognition have grown beyond the borders of one, two, even three countries, from Alaska to Chile.
But if you go into any Mexican place of business you’ll find a huge icon of her with a big Mexican flag underneath it. Mexicans revere Our Lady for the great love she shows to them, but it even goes beyond that.
Today’s Catholic: Do you feel that political, economic or other pressures which exist today threaten her message, either in the U.S. or Mexico?
Father Elizondo: Not really. The teenage spirit of rebellion is alive and well, and that creates a great deal of conflict for our young people in both countries. But look at the tattoos they wear on their bodies, and how often they are of Our Lady. They look toward her from a young age. On her feast day they offer her dances and music and flowers.
It’s a natural growth process, to act out. But deep down they are still Guadalupanas.
Today’s Catholic: In 2010, the National Catholic Register suggested that one purpose of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearance and her words to Juan Diego was to legitimize the status of Mexican Indians and integrate them into the Church. Do you agree with that opinion?
Father Elizondo: She’s not that much of a political figure, although plenty of people do take up her image in times of struggle. But I really think she rises above that.
It could be that because the circumstances of her appearance were so uplifting that people want to relate it to modern-day social activism. The whole Indian population of the Mexico City area was very oppressed at the time, and her message of love and of legitimacy were more uplifting than anything else the people were experiencing. You can see why people now could relate to it again.
Cesar Chavez walked behind her when he campaigned for migrant worker rights. She lifts people up, and encourages them to vote for dignity and for justice.
Today’s Catholic: As a matter of fact, you said back in 1977, in a draft of “Liturgy and Cultural Religious Traditions”: “This (OLOG) tradition has come to stand for the dignity, identity, unity personal and collective, emancipation and the liberation movement of the Mexican people” both in Mexico and the U.S. What effort do you think will carry her banner now?
Father Elizondo: I think there are various ways in which people are struggling. She is ever sensitive to the pro-life movement, because she’s a mother. She’s literally the mother of many.
A visit to her temple is an acceptance of a new way of life. It’s not just a building in Mexico City. It’s a symbol of a life and a country without borders, without fences. The dream is for a land where all of her children can play and can live together. I think that’s in the making, the way you see her celebrations nowadays. They celebrate her in New York, in France, in Canada, everywhere. I think that shows the inclusion that people crave. We’re already becoming a people that are one people, that are made up of all the people of the Earth. And she comes to all of us, equally.
She continues to attract people. It’s just that her message is so relevant. People who feel alone, people who feel burdened, it’s her tenderness as a mother that’s very, very life giving. People can bring their own problems with them when they visit her, when they come to celebrate her feast day — because she’s not about one issue, she’s about faith. She’s like the Gospel in Native American terms. In an age where we’re bombarded with messages of all kinds, hers is simply that she loves us and that we can come to her. She continues to be the great gift of God to all the people who inhabit this land.
Calendar of events for parishes celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe
St. Joseph Church, 2213 Brooklyn, Fort Wayne, schedule of events:
• The Mañanitas service will be held Dec. 12 at 5 a.m. Mass will be celebrated at 5:30 p.m., followed by a potluck dinner in the hall.
St. Patrick Church, 2120 S. Harrison St., Fort Wayne, schedule of events:
• Novena will be held from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10 in the church at 7 p.m.
• A Mass with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will be celebrated Sunday, Dec. 9, at 12: 30 p.m.
• After Mass, there will be a procession. The faithful will walk towards the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where Bishop Rhoades will be waiting. An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be presented to the bishop, just as Juan Diego did. From the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the faithful will return to St. Patrick where there will be traditional dances, a raffle and a food sale.
The route is a total of two miles. Those who cannot or do not want to participate in the procession are asked to park on the street so that the route will not be blocked for others participating in the procession. Those joining the procession are asked to meet at St. Patrick Church at 2:15 p.m.
• The Mañanitas will be held Dec. 11, with the novena and songs to Our Lady being prayed in church at 10 p.m.
• On Dec. 12, Mañanitas will be held at midnight followed by Mass at 6 p.m.
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