By Sister Luz-Eugenia Alvarez
Since I met the Sisters of Mercy and began learning the history of our charism, I never had a doubt of the essential connection between Our Lady of Guadalupe and our vocation. In this reflection I want to share some thoughts about what I found inspirational from Our Lady of Guadalupe in living the critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy today.
In the story of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 1500s, called in the Nahuatl language “Nican Mopohua” (“Here Is Told”)1, Our Lady of Guadalupe said to Juan Diego in her first apparition:
Know, know for sure, my dearest and youngest son, that I am the perfect ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the one great God of truth who gives us life, the inventor and creator of people. […] I want very much that they build my sacred little house here. In which I will show him, I will exalt him on making him manifest: I will give him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassionate gaze, in my help, in my salvation because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke me, and trust in me; I will listen to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions, and sorrows.
Our Lady of Guadalupe asked for a “little house” to provide a space from which to give her Mercy, to bring God to everyone in this land. Through our person and ministry, we can bring God to the people with our personal love, compassionate gaze and help, by listening to people’s pain and grief, and remedying their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. Our vocation is to do the same through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and living our critical concerns focused on immigration, racism, women, nonviolence and the Earth.
Immigration. The Mexican people did not want to leave their country during the Spanish conquest of the 1500s, and everything that was familiar: their language, religion, temples, houses, social life, family system, traditions, their sciences. If they stayed, they were forced to assimilate and enter into the ways of the Europeans. The Mexican natives were not considered equals, but rather “less,” an “underdeveloped” civilization. The Spaniards did not recognize the natives’ knowledge in medicine, architecture, astronomy, philosophy, or their similarities with the Christian faith. Besides Christianity, new tools, skills and language, the Spaniards also brought illnesses, destruction and death, but stopped the religious human sacrifices. As a result, the natives lost their identity, their place in the “house” of the new society of the conquerors. They were immigrants, foreigners in their own land. Then Our Lady of Guadalupe asks someone with the European religious authority for a space, a house, a temple where everyone is recognized, where everyone is called her “child” and able to receive God’s mercy. Our charism also calls us to be that “space” where Jesus can be seen and manifested, being women in whom people trust and have a citizenship.
Racism. Native people were considered second-class, and the mestizos were considered the least in that society. The mestizo people were the children of a white European and a brown Indigenous person. Sadly, most of the time, they were the offspring of Spanish men who raped the native women. The new mestizo race was not recognized by the white Europeans and was rejected by the brown Indigenous people. Our Lady of Guadalupe comes as a mestiza with a message that requires eradication of racism because every person of this Earth is seen equally, as her children. In the recent scientific ophthalmological studies of her eyes in the imprint of her image on the cloak of Juan Diego, people with white, brown and Black racial features can be seen. Moreover, Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks the same language of the “uneducated” people, using the symbolism that the natives could perfectly understand. She does an enculturated evangelization integrating the beliefs of the oppressed with the faith of the oppressors. As Sisters of Mercy, we find in Our Lady of Guadalupe an example about how to continue working with our inner racism and trying to enter into the cosmos vision of other cultures, by being able to speak, live and minister in an intercultural way.
Women. After the conquest, native women lost their role in their society, were oppressed and abused by Europeans, especially by rape. In Our Lady of Guadalupe, with her mestizo face and identity as the ever Virgin, God comes in a female presence that reinstates the value and untouchable dignity of women. Moreover, it is very interesting that the Latinx theologian Orlando Espín, a Cuban immigrant, considers this divine presence more as a Pneumatological than a Mariological phenomenon. It means that what Our Lady of Guadalupe offers corresponds to the action of the Holy Spirit: manifestation, consolation, healing, revelation, wisdom and salvation. These are attributes that women bring to society too, no matter their state of life. Our Lady of Guadalupe brings the female Rûah of God to a male-only society. Women have in Our Lady of Guadalupe their prototype as whole and a source of life. In Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Sisters of Mercy and all women are confirmed in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26) and called to do the works of God (See Jn 14:11).
Nonviolence. The war stopped when the conquerors won, oppressing people and imposing their culture. Somehow peace was improved by the divine presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe who united oppressors and the oppressed in one faith. The war of independence of the Mexican native, mestizo and criollo3 people from the European dominion began in 1810 and lasted until the early 1820s. The Mexican flag for freedom, dignity, national identity and peace was an image of Our Lady Guadalupe. The Sisters of Mercy bring peace through their many ministries, caring for people on the margins of society as well as advocating for changes in the law on behalf of justice.
Earth. Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image-codex (ancient manuscript based on symbols) integrates the divinity, cosmos and humankind. The big flowers of her dress mean the joy of the Earth that is flowing from the heavens of her full-of-stars turquoise mantle. The stars on her mantle correspond to the position of the constellations of that year, 1531, but seeing them from space towards the Earth. The positions of the flowers match exactly with the geographical positions of all the volcanos in the actual Mexican territory. The sun, the most important Aztec deity, surrounds her and she stands on the moon. And then, the most important symbol, the four-petal flower placed exactly over her womb, called in Nahuatl “Nahui Ollin,” a symbol about time and space, fullness of life, God’s presence. The harmony of supernatural and natural reality is shown in Our Lady of Guadalupe as it should be in our lives as women of Mercy united to God, integrating ourselves in the creation, protecting and bringing it to its fullness.
Hopefully we can continue bringing to light Mercy spiritual and ministerial identity from the theology and pastoral approach of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Do you think that it is a coincidence that the Mercy community was officially recognized in the church, through the vows of the first three Sisters of Mercy, on December 12? Exactly three hundred years after Our Lady of Guadalupe’s manifestation and official acceptance of her revelation on the tilma, the cloak of Juan Diego. The Sisters of Mercy’s call is in the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, being women present to our suffering world, embodying the compassionate heart of God to bring liberation, human dignity and to restore equilibrium.
Are you a Merciful Guadalupan presence in our times?
Think about it…
1 I highly recommend you read the entire text to better understand her message.
2 Rûah: Hebrew female noun that means spirit, breath
3 Criollo: the racial classification given to the children of white Spaniards born in the New World (American continent). They were not as valued as those born in Spain.