During his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis has to make an emotional stop at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe – patron saint of Mexico and “empress of the Americas” – where millions of pilgrims flock each year to pray before the shroud that bears her image.
But she’s also an ever-present part of life for millions of people in this country, not just at the basilica. Across the national territory, in private homes and public marketplaces, she gazes down beneficently from the walls of taco stands and police stations, from hair salon mirrors and even outside no-tell motels.
In poor barrios and posh shopping districts, perhaps nothing unites Mexicans more than their reverence for the Virgin. Grieving families light candles beneath her likeness in shrines to dead relatives, while young hipsters shell out big bucks for shirtsleeve tattoos of the “Guadalupana”. (You can even find Guadalupe in the houses of several Expats living in Mexico).
According to tradition, the dark-skinned virgin appeared before the indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531 at Tepeyac, a hillside near Mexico City where Aztecs worshipped a mother-goddess, and her image was miraculously imprinted on his cloak.
The image helped priests inculcate Catholicism among Mexicans during Spanish colonial rule, and the church later made her patron of all the Americas. Juan Diego was canonized as the hemisphere’s first Indian saint in 2002 during the papacy of John Paul II.
Juan Diego’s cloak is still on display today behind glass at the basilica, the most visited Marian shrine on the planet, where signs admonish against flash photography and long lines of worshippers are carried past along a self-moving walkway.
Don’t be suprised if you ever hear a Mexican say: “We are God’s chosen, that’s why the Virgin appeared here.”
On an interview with L’Osservatore Romano one week ago, Pope Francis openly expressed his love for Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said that the Virgin provides “security and tenderness” for him; and he asked all Mexicans a favor: That when he visits this great temple dedicated to the Mother of God, he asks the Mexican people to allow him “a little while alone in front of the image”.
Francis declared that he had been in Mexico twice: the first time in 1970 for a meeting of the Society of Jesus and the second time in 1999 as part of Pope John Paul II delegation. On both occasions he paid a visit to “La Guadalupana”.
“She is the Mother, she cares, protects, leads the people, supports the family, gives warmth of home, tenderly caresses her children and takes away their fear. As she once told Juan Diego: ‘Do not be afraid son, I am here, I am your mother‘. That’s what I feel when I am in front of her image. ” Pope Francis concluded.
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