Patron saint remains a symbol of Mexican identity and faith

Published in the Dec. 21, 2016 – January 3, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Photo by Marty Cheek: Members of St. Catherine’s Catholic Church celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe with a procession through downtown Morgan Hill. Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the Virgin of Guadalupe, is the patron saint of Mexico and the Americas. She is honored every Dec. 12.

The procession in celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe passed north along Monterey Road through downtown Morgan Hill. With festive music and children dressed in traditional peasant costumes, hundreds of members of St. Catherine’s Church joined together to honor the patron saint of Mexico and the Americas Sunday Dec. 11, the day before her official feast day.

For many Mexican-Americans in the South Valley and millions of others throughout the United States, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, connects them in a spiritual bond with their cultural heritage, said Sister Silvia Frias. A native of Guanajuato, Mexico, Frias works with the Hispanic community of St. Catherine’s Church and helped organize the procession that led to a mass at the church several blocks west of downtown.

“For me and for my people who live here who are from Mexico, sometimes we miss the day we share in our country,” she said. “And to see her here, it’s something like she’s close to us, even though we are now far from the place where we were born.”

Dec. 12 holds special significance for Mexican-Americans, she said. It marks the date in 1531 when the Virgin Mary, whom Catholics honor as the mother of Jesus Christ, purportedly appeared to an indigenous Mexican peasant named Juan Diego in the last of several apparitions.

According to story, on a winter’s day in 1531 the Virgin Mary first appeared to Diego as he was crossing a hill called Tepeyac near what is now Mexico City.

She appeared as a dark-skinned woman who spoke Nahuatl, Diego’s native language.

She asked the peasant to build her a little house, called a “casita,” on the hill. Two times, Diego reported the appearance of Mary to his local bishop, but the skeptical church official didn’t believe him. The second time, the bishop asked Diego for proof of the apparitions.

Celebrants display images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during a procession through downtown Morgan Hill Dec. 12. Today, Our Lady of Guadalupe remains a powerful symbol of Mexican identity and faith and helps connect Mexican-Americans through their common heritage.

Early on the morning of Dec. 12, Mary appeared again to Diego and told him to gather some flowers at the top of the hill. It was an odd request because flowers were not in season at that time of year.

But Diego did as he was told, and on arriving at the hilltop, he found an array of blooming Castilian roses. The lady helped him arrange them in his tilma, a peasant’s cloak.
He returned to the bishop with them as evidence. When the man presented the tilma to the bishop and the flowers tumbled out, the bishop saw a life-size image of the Virgin Mary on the inside of the cloak.

This well-known image is known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is portrayed in art in Mexican homes and carried in the processions in her honor.

“It was in the time that there was a very problematic situation in Mexico because the Spaniards arrived in Mexico,” Frias said. “They had the problem of the evangelization of the Mexican people. They tried to evangelize the people by force, but it didn’t work. They destroyed the temples and other things and imposed the Catholic religion on them. But when Our Lady appears in Mexico (to Diego), she had many signs that the indigenous people know and it helped to evangelize the indigenous people.”

The people of Mexico were waiting for a Messiah to appear to them, she said. Mary appeared to Diego as woman who has a child in her womb.

“They’re’ waiting for a sign because in their prophecy, he will appear but they do not know when. The sign is that the woman is pregnant. This was a connection that made it a little easier to evangelize to the Mexican people.”

In the 21st century, Our Lady of Guadalupe remains a powerful symbol of Mexican identity and faith. Her image is associated with motherhood and social justice.

Today the Basilica of Guadalupe stands on the site where Our Lady of Guadalupe is believed by Catholics to have appeared to Juan Diego.

One of the top attractions in Mexico, it draws millions of tourists and pilgrims every year who wish to honor her through their faithful devotion. Diego’s cloak bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is on display inside the basilica.

Dec. 12 became a national holiday in Mexico in 1859. Pope Pious XXII crowned Our Lady of Guadalupe “Empress of the Americas” in 1945.

She has long been recognized as the patron saint of Mexico and helps connect Mexican-Americans through their common heritage in the story of a mother’s love for the people, Frias said.

“I think it’s part of our culture and one of the values that we have is a respect for our mothers,” Frias said. “And we value her because she appears like a mother … She wants to invite the people and show she’s the mother of everyone. She wants that everybody know that maternal love in their life.”

Children play an important role in the annual procession in Our Lady of Guadalupe’s honor.

“They wear a typical costume for the celebration,” Frias said. “It’s like the image of Juan Diego for the boys. For the girls, they wear some typical costumes from Mexico. It’s like the indigenous people that they want to represent because Our Lady appeared to the indigenous people and not the priests or to the special people who were from Spain or another country. She appeared to the people of Mexico.”