I would be surprised to hear of a church in Mexico that did not have a special altar dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe: her image is surely in every Mexican church, to say nothing of the countless other places – public and private – where it can be found in that beautiful country. The Mexican people have a remarkable devotion to Mary under this title. And this Friday, December 12, we celebrate her feast, the 483rd anniversary of her appearance on the Tepeyac Hill in what is now Mexico City (1531).
In many older Mexican churches, near the image of La Guadalupana there is also a Latin inscription, taken from Psalm 147. It says, “NON FECIT TALITER OMNI NATIONI” – in English, “He has not done thus for any other nation”. The association of this psalm verse with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe arises from something that happened in 1754. A Jesuit priest from Mexico brought a painted copy of the image to Rome, to Pope Benedict XIV, and recounted to him the history of the apparition and the great wonders that followed thereafter. Upon hearing about it, the Holy Father fell to his knees and exclaimed this Latin phrase – a phrase that he would have known by heart, since he would have prayed it at least weekly in the Breviary.
Well, what were the great wonders that followed Our Lady’s appearance in 1531? By that point the Spanish conquistadores had already been in Mexico for about 15 years, along with their missionaries (principally Franciscan and Dominican priests), trying to convert the native peoples to Catholicism – with very little success. Once Our Lady appeared, however, Mexico became Catholic. Within ten years, nine million people were baptized. As Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote, “In Mexico, at first, absolutely nothing could be done about missionary work – until the occurrence of that phenomenon at Guadalupe, and then the Son was suddenly near by way of his Mother… and suddenly the Christian religion no longer wears the terrible face of the conqueror but the kindly face of the Mother.”
God had truly not done thus for any other nation, intervening through his Mother, to work such a prodigy of conversions in such a short time after such a period of failed missionary efforts! Again: nine million new Catholics in only ten years!
Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us that the Church is missionary in nature – that we are called to go out as missionaries into our world and bring Christ to others. Our Lady of Guadalupe has also been proposed as the special patroness of the New Evangelization. May we learn from her, then: may we show to others the kindly face of God’s love. The Lord himself taught us this powerful lesson, at Tepeyac Hill, 483 years ago.
He has not done thus for any other nation!