From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[ENS] 'Undocumented Virgin': Guadalupe narrative crosses

From "Matthew Davies" <>
Date Fri, 10 Dec 2004 15:44:54 -0500

Daybook, from Episcopal News Service

December 10, 2004 - Friday Forum: Voices on Current Issues

'Undocumented Virgin': Guadalupe narrative crosses borders for new

[ENS] Both the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times have in recent
years interviewed Lydia Lopez, an Episcopal lay leader from Pasadena,
California, about why Christians of many denominations are increasingly
finding meaning in the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe -- whose traditional
feast day is December 12. Indeed, artistic renderings of "La Morenita," as
the Virgin is also known, are displayed in a growing number of churches,
Episcopal included. While not all Mexican Anglicans share the same views
about the Virgin, she remains a symbol of cultural and religious
significance that reaches beyond Roman Catholic origins, says Lopez, who is
communications associate in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and an
honorary canon of the Cathedral Center of St. Paul. To draw meaning from the
story of the Virgin is not to worry whether it is fact or legend, says
Lopez. Following is Lopez's reflection on the "Undocumented Virgin."

'The Undocumented Virgin'

By Lydia Lopez

In the 16th century, while Indians were demoralized by the routing of their
gods, and millions of Indians were dying from the plague of Europe, the
Virgin Mary appeared, pacing on a hillside, to an Indian named Juan Diego -
his Christian name. He spoke no Spanish; she spoke to him in Nahuatl because
she was a very smart virgin. He hears beautiful music. It was December 1531.

She was dressed in Indian garb covered with Aztec symbols and wearing the
Aztec sash of a pregnant woman. To one like Juan Diego, Mary's attire
communicated powerful messages. Her rich blue mantle spoke of royalty, while
the gold stars emblazoned on it signaled prophecies of a dying civilization
that would soon experience a new birth. She wore both a Christian cross (on
her brooch) and an Aztec cross (centered on her womb). Her splendor was
greater that the sun which framed her, a symbol of the Aztec deity...

At the Virgin's request, this Indian must go several times to the bishop of
Mexico City to ask that chapel be built on Tepeyac (the nearby hill) in her
honor. Juan Diego visits the Spanish bishop. The bishop is skeptical. The
bishop wants proof. The Virgin tells Juan Diego to climb the hill and gather
a sheaf of roses as proof for the bishop. He finds Castilian roses among
Tepeyac's native cacti: impossible in Mexico in December 1531.

Juan carries the roses in the folds of his cloak, his tilma, a pregnant
messenger. Upon entering the bishop's presence, Juan parts his cloak, the
roses tumble, the bishop falls to his knees as he sees the picture of
Guadalupe. That same tilma is today enshrined in the Basilica of Our Lady of
Guadalupe at the foot of Tepeyac in Mexico City. The sight of that image is
said to have motivated the conversion of 8 million Indians. 

The legend concludes with a concession to humanity -- proof more durable
than roses - the imprint of the Virgin's image upon the cloak of Juan Diego.
A Spanish trick? A recruitment poster for a new religion? Why do we assume
Spain made up the story? The importance of the story is that the Indians
believed it.

The Virgin chose to be the brown-faced Mary. All elements spoke directly to
the Indian, and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- Mexicans call her "La
Morenita" -- has become the unofficial flag of Mexicans. The Virgin appears
everywhere in Mexico; on dashboards and calendars, on playing cards, on
lampshades and cigar boxes -- even tattooed upon the very skins of Mexicans.

Nor has the image of Guadalupe diminished: she has become more vivid with
time, developing in her replication from earthy shades of melon, Aztec
orange as author Richard Rodriguez has said, to bubble gum pink.

Every December 12 in Mexico feels like a religious Woodstock. I tried
getting near the Basilica recently but I had to make my way past 7 million
others who had the same idea. I decided to come back the next day.

In La Virgen, I see myself. I call her the first mestiza, the original
Chicana, and because she crosses so many borders I call her the undocumented
virgin, the virgin of many immigrations.

Juan Diego tells us La Morenita is at the center of the Mexican soul. Would
that this spiritual matriarchy were Mexico's political and economic reality,
but -- alas -- Guadalupe has yet to storm the halls of macho power.

In El Salvador, it was the radical Catholic laity that laid the ground work
for the revolutionary movement of the 1970s and 1980s and in the process
convinced key church authorities such as the martyred Archbishop Oscar
Romero to resist the military dictatorship.

Cesar Chavez carried the Virgin of Guadalupe in front of his march for
social justice for the farm worker. Again she led the way as warrior

What many fail to see is that the crisis in Mexico is the crisis in
California and vice versa. Mexicans are at the center of this whirlwind of
history, agents of change. They are scorned on either side of the border.
Chicanos and immigrants are treated like Indians in California while in
Mexico the Indians are seen as stumbling blocks to the latest neo-liberal
schemes: the Indians of Mexico are treated like the Chicanos or immigrants
of California.

Creating understanding and justice remains the mission and the strength of
communities of faith. Calling us forward on this journey is the Virgin
herself, she who is prized for giving birth to new possibilities.

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