By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
The love and adoration of one’s mother is perhaps the most natural, most universal human sentiment. For Hispanic Catholics, that sentiment has become incarnate in the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is everywhere in Hispanic culture. The dark-skinned woman, wearing a green cloak and surrounded by rays of sunlight can be seen on truck windshields, belt buckles and even in jail house tattoos.
The woman depicted is Mary, the mother of Jesus, and, according to Catholic legend, she appeared in 1531 to an Indian peasant on a hillside outside modern day Mexico City.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is the symbol par excellence for Mexican culture, but her appeal reaches even farther, representing a shared identity among Hispanics, a broad sense of belonging sometimes referred to as “la raza,” or the race.
Catholics celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, and this year, Hispanics throughout Northeast Mississippi will honor the day with dramas, dancing and prayer.
Symbol of unity
Wherever Catholics have seen visions of the Virgin Mary throughout the world, they’ve usually pictured her looking much like themselves. The Black Madonna of Czestochwa, Poland, for example, has the quiescent, almost dour features of eastern Europeans.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is perhaps the most strikingly ethnic of any apparition of Mary that’s been approved by the church. She has the stern, almost frightening features of the Aztecs, with an aquiline nose, obsidian hair and mocha skin.
“Her appearance made her more acceptable, better able to persuade and influence the Indian people,” said the Rev. Mario Solorzano, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in New Albany.
Solorzano is also a native of Michoacan, Mexico, and understands the symbolic power of the Virgin’s appearance. In most images, a black scarf is draped around her hands or waist, an Indian symbol for pregnancy.
“She is the new ark,” said Elquin Gonzalez, coordinator of Hispanic ministry at St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo. Gonzales made reference to the Ark of the Covenant, which in the Old Testament carried the holy relics of the Israelites.
“She carries inside her the treasure, the child, Jesus,” said Gonzalez.
Next Saturday, Tupelo High senior, Viridiana Acosta, will portray the Virgin of Guadalupe in a brief drama at St. James. Acosta’s performance will be part of a weekend celebration that will include a Mass, lots of food, and traditional, Aztec dancing. The strikingly beautiful, 17-year-old Acosta is a native of Zacatecas, Mexico, and the harmony of her features, including her big, brown eyes and full lips, brings the image of the virgin to life in a way that’s almost eerie.
“I consider this a great honor,” said Acosta, who will act alongside Isidro Vasquez, who will portray the peasant, Juan Diego. According to the legend, when the virgin appeared to Diego on the Tepeyac hill, she emblazoned her image on his cloak and made roses appear for him to take to the local bishop as proof.
The apparition was intended to create harmony between the Indians and the Spaniards, and to dissuade the Indians from their pagan practices.
To the uninitiated, Hispanics’ adoration of the Virgin of Guadalupe might look like idol worship. Jesus, after all, is present but hidden, and his mother takes center stage.
“People really must understand that the mother is an intercessor, one who pleads for us to her son,” said Sr. Soledad Mendoza, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry at St. Christopher Catholic Church in Pontotoc.
“She is pregnant with the savior of the world, but she is not the savior. She is his mother, and she is therefore worthy of dignity and honor. This is what we celebrate.”
“Our Sunday school teacher said it’s like Mary is passing along a good word for us,” she said.
The mothers of most Hispanic immigrants to the U.S. are thousands of miles away, in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. The idea of a universal mother is a comforting thought.
“They really see her as the mother they don’t have here and now, near them,” said Solorzano, adding that the idea of venerating one mother strengthens the bonds of kinship within “la raza,” and helps Hispanics overcome cultural differences.
The Virgin of Guadalupe, added Solorzano, is really a mother for all Christians. The Catholic Church gave her the title “The Mother of the Americas,” and, according to Solorzano, the best way to understand her universal appeal is to look at scripture.
“The gospel writer tells us that Jesus saw his beloved disciple standing beside Mary, and said to him, ‘Behold your mother,’” said Solorzano.
The ubiquitous presence of the virgin in Hispanic culture might also be explained, Solorzano said, by the line that follows Jesus’ instructions to John in the gospel: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Join Hispanic Catholics for their celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe:
■ St. James Catholic Church, corner of Lakeshire and N. Gloster in Tupelo Dec. 3-10, at 6:15 p.m. each night, rosary (30 min.) followed by Aztec dancing (outdoors) by “La Danza” dance company.
Dec. 11: Dancing at 10 p.m., followed by the rosary, a brief drama, sweets and music.
Dec. 12: 10:30 a.m. bilingual Mass, followed by dancing and a procession with the statue of the virgin;
2 p.m. another bilingual Mass and a big festival with music, food and dancing.
■ St. Francis of Assisi, Hwy. 15, New Albany.
Dec. 12: 5 a.m. rosary, followed by music from “El Tamborazo”; 7:30 a.m. bilingual Mass followed by sweets, aprocession around the church and dancing. Another bilingual Mass at