Growing up in a Mexican household, celebrations for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe were never missed. My family in particular did not necessarily participate in festivals since we live in a pretty small town that didn’t host any. Having moved to the United States when I was only three years old I can’t say that I remember the celebrations that were held in Mexico. It wasn’t until last year when I ventured out into spending more than half a year living in Mexico that I got to experience these celebrations to a maximum.
I remember thinking why in the world my Mom would want us in the Metro heading over by 5:30AM. When we got there I understood why. It was December 9th and also the first day for pilgrims to start making their way to the Basilica as part of feast day celebrations. It was only 6AM and the Basilica had the same amount of people that I had seen there previously during the afternoon… maybe even more. By the time the sun was up I lost count of the pilgrim groups that had walked, biked, driven, flown from all over Mexico and other parts of the world. It was truly a special sight to see so many faithfuls gathered to see the miraculous poncho that once belonged to Juan Diego with the image now on it.
This was not my first time in Mexico City nor was it my first time in the Basilica seeing this. It was my first time going during this time of year though. It was then that I feel I witnessed so much more of a miracle than I did when I went to solely see the image. Although I have to say that the image itself is stunning considering the type of material it is on and the age, etc. I was in amazement of just how many people were showing up and I was struck by the amount of devotion that they showed as some went on their knees from outside all the way up to the altar. It was amazing to see just how many people from different walks of life were in the area that day. It is then that I remembered a great passage from a book by Virgilio Elizondo titled Galilean Journey
“The real miracle was not the apparition but what happened to the defeated Indian. In the person of Juan Diego was represented the Indian nations defeated and slaughtered, but now brought to life. They who had been robbed of their lands and of their way of life and even of their gods were now coming to life. They who had been silenced were now speaking again through the voice of the Lady. They who wanted only to die now wanted to live.”
My senior year of college I chose to write my thesis on the conversion from Hinduism to Islam in Indonesia. At first I knew I wanted to research something relating to Hinduism and then figured that had a background on Islam and my research led to this. One of the biggest questions I was left to ponder throughout my research was… WHY Islam? Since Indonesia was for a long time a Dutch colony and the Dutch are predominantly Christian. And throughout my time in Mexico I often analyzed just how different the Catholic traditions were from those in the United States. Despite the difference in traditions the faith of the Mexican people is quite strong – and I began to wonder … why did Christianity prevail in Mexico and why did it not prevail in such a huge way in other places? It may have to do with the racial mixing but in Elizondo’s book I discovered a whole new insight that I had never thought of before.
There is a real miracle in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe because she came to show that God was not only for the white men that had conquered the land but that he stood by the conquered. Guadalupe was not like the other images that brought by the Spanish, images with light skin, light eyes and hair. She was dark and looked like the new race of mestizos. This religion was no longer only the religion of the white Spanish conqueror but it was now also the religion of the conquered. Through this they discovered that they were re born and a new race of Mexican people came about. Guadalupe came to tell the defeated that was their mother and bring a new nation together.
Mexican politics and sociology is very complicated and I am no one to really say much about it other than my experiences. There is still a great sense of superiority by those with lighter skin in Mexico. There is a sense of superiority (as there is in most places) by people who hold an education. People in Mexico are very focused on family and also what family you belong to and how much money they have. There are still long strides to take when it comes to unity there but there is one thing I know for certain. Almost every Mexican household that I have ever visited (in Mexico) has an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their house. Mexicans from all walks of life know the songs that are sung during the pastorelas. Despite the many divisions there is a deep sense of unity that comes with Our Lady of Guadalupe. She brought inclusion to a place of segregation, she brought identity to a new nation and she brought love to those that felt deeply unloved.
One of the biggest lessons Our Lady brought was that of conversion. As I said I spent time researching Hindu conversion to Islam and what I came to notice was that the most dramatic numbers always come from a peaceful conversion and not a forced one. Although I am Catholic and believe that this faith is in fact truth – it is important to note that this truth is not easily seen through violent and forced means. God’s love has it’s way of showing through mysterious ways. Sometimes through silent ways and other times such as in this case of Our Lady through loud and undeniable ways.