December 12th is the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe). On this day, millions of faithful followers from all over the Americas (particularly in Mexico and the North American Southwest) celebrate the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the amerindian, Juan Diego, on the hill of Tepeyec in 1531.
Centuries before the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to Juan Diego there, Tepeyec was the site of the Temple of Cihuacoatl, the mother earth, a god of the indigenous people group that farmed the land of present day Mexico before the arrival of the Aztecs and later the Spaniards. (Blank, Rudolfo, Teología y Misión en América Latina. p. 101)
Following the arrival of the Spanish, the conquered indigenous people continued to make pilgrimages to the Temple of Cihuacoatl, in search of refuge from their oppression and in order to maintain the identity of their pueblo. That is, of course, until it was destroyed by the Conquistadores during their campaign to eradicate idolatry.
It was on one of these trips that, according to popular tradition, Juan Diego heard a soft voice calling to him, “Little Juan, Little Juan.” After following the whisper he met the Virgin Mary, who gave him instructions to build a sanctuary to her atop the remains of the Temple of Cihuacoatl, where she could show compassion, help, and defend the people of the land.
Today, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Roman Catholic site in the world. The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of Mexico’s most celebrated feast days. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and Juan Diego was the first indigenous Roman Catholic saint. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of this feast day, not only for Mexicans, but for Roman Catholics all over the Americas.
It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is an expression of Latin American folk religion that arose from an oppressed people group whose perception of Christ had been utterly skewed by their “oppressors.” Undoubtedly, the Christ Juan Diego knew didn’t look much different to him than the foreigners that had recently conquered his people and destroyed his former gods. The image of Christ he most likely had was the one Presbyterian theologian and missionary, John Mackay refers to as the Heavenly Sovereign Christ. (Blank, 96)
This is the Christ who gave the order: go and impose religion, extending the civilization of the Spanish Empire to the New World, baptizing them with the power of the sword and in the name of the Trinity, subjecting them to slavery in order to exploit them, teaching them to obey the Crown in everything; and Fernando and Isabel will be with you always, until the end of time. – (Trinidad, Saúl. Christology, Conquista, Colonization. pp. 56)
It’s also impossible to overestimate the importance of reintroducing the Christ revealed to us in Scriptures to those (who for any reason) have a faulty perception of who He is and what He’s done for us. Please pray for our missionaries serving in Latin America as they point people to Mercy Incarnate, Jesus Christ, who is anything but a tyrant, and never stops showing compassion to the weary, the weak, and the oppressed.