Most merciful mother: Local faithful honor Our Lady of Guadalupe

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

December 11, 2017

Matachines perform during a special procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in 2016. (NTC photo/Adrean Indolos)

FORT WORTH  — Monica Lopez knows the power of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Four years ago, the mother of three school-age children was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. She believes praying for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, spared her life.

“That’s why I’m here,” said Lopez, a parishioner at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Decatur. “I know she’s been at my bedside. I could picture her, see her, feel her. She helps us. She’s our mother.”

That sentiment was shared by the hundreds of people who arrived at St. Patrick Cathedral before sunrise to hear the Mariachi Imperial band serenade Our Lady of Guadalupe on her Dec. 12 feast day. Standing before a statue of an olive-skinned maiden, surrounded by an aura of golden rays, the musicians honored the Patroness of the Americas by performing “Las Mañanitas” — a traditional Mexican song reserved for birthdays and holidays.

Following the mariachis, Sol Ballet Folklorico treated the congregation to folk dances rich in symbolism and heritage. Dressed in colorful costumes and carrying roses, members of the troupe told the story of St. Juan Diego with choreography.

Continuing the centuries-old celebration, matachines from Decatur paid homage to the Mother of Jesus with a rhythmic, solemn procession through the aisles of the cathedral. Wearing ceremonial naguillas featuring an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the young warriors carried percussion instruments as they stepped to the resounding beat of drums. Each sacred dance represented a prayer.  

“It’s a beautiful way to start the day,” said Joe Govea, who welcomed worshippers to the 5 a.m. gathering. “The Mexican people have always had a strong Catholic faith and they are bringing that faith to America. Traditions like this will help strengthen the Church.”

Liturgies throughout the United States honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe observe what many in the Hispanic community simply call, “the miracle.” Nearly 500 years ago, Juan Diego, a poor, humble Aztec Indian and recent convert to Catholicism, was walking to early morning Mass when he encountered a beautiful, young woman on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. 

The lady, he recognized as the Virgin Mary, wanted a church built on the site of a former pagan temple. When the bishop, hearing the request, asked the peasant for proof of the apparition, he returned with a tilma filled with beautiful Castilian roses from arid, infertile ground. As the roses spilled out of the cloak in front of the bishop, they were replaced with a miraculous image of Our Lady that continues to mystify scientists.

Today the intact, unfaded cloth is on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe — the most visited Marian shrine in the world. When Pope Francis visited Mexico in 2016, his first Mass was in the basilica where he told the crowd Mary is the mother of everyone, especially those who suffer or feel as though “they weep in vain.”

But Our Lady of Guadalupe’s first outreach was to the Aztecs who were predominantly pagan and practiced human sacrifice in the 16th century. To help the ancient indigenous people understand who she was, Mary chose an outfit weighted in symbols significant to them.

She dressed in clothing indicating royalty and a sash around her waist meant she was with child because that was the way Aztec women dressed when they were pregnant. A four-petal flower, symbolizing the God above all gods to the Aztecs, rested on her swollen abdomen and told the Indians this was the mother of the true God. For this reason, Our Lady of Guadalupe is called Patroness of the Unborn.

The appearance of Mary to Juan Diego helped the Aztecs embrace Christianity. In the years following the miracle, 8 million indigenous Indians joined the Catholic faith — the largest conversion in the history of the Church.

Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego in 2002. 

Melody Thompson remembers learning about the first indigenous saint from the Americas while a student at All Saints Catholic School.

“This humble man goes up the mountain and experiences something we’ll never experience,” the Holy Family parishioner said, recalling the lesson she has now passed down to her two children, Jackson and Payton. “He got to see the Virgin. It was a miracle.”

Married 17 years ago in St. Patrick Cathedral on Dec. 11, the eve of Our Lady’s feast day, the bride made sure she included a tribute to the patron saint in her wedding ceremony. Thompson placed flowers in front of the statue at the cathedral’s side altar.

“I dedicated my future family to her,” the young mother remembered.

After the mariachis and dance companies finished their tributes, feast day activities continued with a Mass concelebrated by Father Sojan George, HGN, Father John Robert Skeldon, and Father Robert Strittmatter.

“We’re here to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe. She loves each one of us like a mother,” said Fr. George, the cathedral’s rector who made a personal pilgrimage to her basilica in Mexico City. “As we gather on this feast day, let us seek her intercession that we may grow in our love for her son, Jesus Christ.”

Fr. Skeldon gave the homily in Spanish and ended his message with a prayer.

“As you comforted St. Juan Diego, and through him the Mexican people in their time of distress by reminding him you were his mother, so now comfort us,” he implored. “In the many trials of our lives, remind us of your tender, gentle care as our mother.”

Those words resonated with Juan DeLeon. The usher at St. Patrick Cathedral prays to Our Lady of Guadalupe every morning.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego so many years ago and we kept that faith,” he insists. “Even when they tried to outlaw Catholicism in Mexico, devotion to her is something that could never be taken from us. I was raised that way and it will continue with my family.”


Editor's Note: This article first ran in the January/February 2017 edition of the North Texas Catholic.

FORT WORTH  — Monica Lopez knows the power of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Four years ago, the mother of three school-age children was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. She believes praying for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, spared her life.

Published (until 12/11/2027)