Mary has appeared throughout the last two thousand years to different peoples all around the world. Tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on which we celebrate the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac outside of Mexico City. We have all heard the story of how Mary appeared to Juan Diego and told him to build a church on the hill in her honor. Upon returning to his town and informing the Archbishop of what he had seen, the Archbishop instructed him to return to Tepeyac and ask for a sign that this was indeed the Virgin Mary. Mary instructed Juan Diego to fill his tilma with roses and carry them back to the Archbishop. When Juan Diego laid the roses before the Archbishop there on his tilma was an image of the Virgin Mary, the image that we know today as Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Basilica built on the very spot of her appearance is the most visited Catholic site in the world. This alone speaks to the widespread devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the world. Today’s feast day provides us with a wonderful opportunity to remember the universality of Mary. She has appeared to many different cultures at many different times throughout history and with each depiction she reminds us that she stands beside each and every one of us as a mother for all people.
Pope Francis, in an audience shortly before the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe in 2013, spoke of one of the most important aspects of Mary: “When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.” This points right to the heart of Mary as our Mother, a Mother for all peoples, for all cultures.
The Virgin Mary is an important aspect of my own faith, but for one reason or another, her depiction as Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in my heart. It might be because her feast day is also my birthday, or because my Dad often jokes that he wanted to name me Guadalupe, or that I grew up in Texas where this depiction is very prominent. I do not know why her image speaks to me so deeply, but I do know that in my devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe I feel a Mother’s embrace. I know that she welcomes me in and I feel at home.
But we are not meant to just live for that embrace of Mary, our Mother, but rather we are called to embrace all peoples and all cultures. And Mary teaches us how! She is the perfect example of how to live out that embrace. She unites us in our humanity and she strengthens our faith in Jesus. She knelt before the cross watching her own son die, and yet when Christ entrusted all of humanity to her, she said yes. She opened her arms and welcomed us in. On this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let us be like her, let us open ourselves to the whole Church, not just in our local communities but throughout the world.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional in Washington, D.C.