(Originally published in December 2014 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)
La Morenita and her roses
She gifts us roses in December. We serenade her with mañanitas before dawn, matachines dance in the streets in her honor; you can hear the drums and singing as they approach –“La Guadalupana, La Guadalupana, La Guadalupana bajo del Tepeyac.” Why in December, in the midst of Advent and just four days after celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, do hundreds of thousands gather, sometimes in the rain and cold, throughout Mexico, the United States and other parts of the world to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Desde el cielo una hermosa Mañana, our Blessed Mother, our Virgencita Morena, first appeared almost 500 years ago on Tepeyac to an Indian named Juan Diego, she appeared in 1531 during chaotic times with a message of love and hope. Her message in Nahuatl, the native tongue, changed hearts and restored people’s dignity. Volumes have been written about the significance of the apparitions that occurred Dec. 9 – 12. St. John Paul II, during his papacy declared her Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization. He even dedicated a chapel in her honor in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pope Francis, in his message a year ago to the Americas on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said, “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.” He said, “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 December as we reflect on the year and prepare to enter a new year, we witness in these Marian celebrations the joy of celebrating our faith, a joy which overflows and inspires us to share this publicly in the streets in a country that affords us the freedom to express our faith without fear of persecution or death. The procession in Brownsville for the celebration of Our Morenita has become one of my favorites. Sometimes the priests ride on horses carrying a banner with her image leading the matachines and floats with students reenacting the apparitions that occurred in 1531. Most of the parishes in the city participate and converge together from different routes for an outdoor Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Lincoln Street.
Our Lady of Guadalupe helps us remember to embrace our faith, trusting in her son to lead us on our daily pilgrimage; she helps us remember to embrace our culture, a culture of life, one strengthened by being true to our beliefs, our heritage, our languages y nuestra tierra. The Star of the New Evangelization, she guides us and encourages us to share the joy of the Gospel, to raise our voice, to show our love, to fight for justice. She who led the way, her image emblazoned on a flag as Father Miguel Hidalgo led the Mexican War of Independence, continues to lead the way to her son.
We have some fights ahead of us when it comes to religious freedom, speaking up for the vulnerable, and speaking up for ourselves. Our Holy Mother, la Morenita de Tepeyac, accompanies us. She who crushes the serpent, proceeds with love. She invites us to do the same. “No se turbe tu corazón” (“Do not let your heart be disturbed.”) Just as she promised Juan Diego, she promises us, “Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”
I find comfort in lighting a candle before a wooden statue of the Virgencita Morena, carved and painted by an artisan in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She stands on the window sill in my kitchen. She is a constant companion. The summer I spent in San Miguel she appeared at every turn – she was embroidered with sequins on purses, used as adornment on earrings and pendants, printed on plastic shopping bags, even the landlord’s cat was named Guadalupe. Popular culture has made her an icon beyond the Church walls. She is linked with the Mexican identity, she is linked with her people. Our Blessed Mother will not be ignored. And in her gentle glance, consoles us and draws us to her son.
We honor her not just in December, but year round. December is the culmination of our thanks to the Holy Mother before her son’s long anticipated arrival on Christmas. Just as she embraces us, we embrace her. We thank her for being our compassionate mother.
Brenda Nettles Riojas www.corazonbilingue.com