MAULDIN — When Mary first appeared to the sainted peasant Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in the highlands of Mexico in 1531, she came loaded with symbolism for the New World.
Mary appeared as a mestiza, or mixed blooded woman, in contrast to the pure races of the Old World, pregnant with the promise of abundant life in the Americas.
“I am your merciful mother,” Our Lady of Guadalupe said to Juan Diego. “To you and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me.”
St. Juan Diego was born into an Aztec culture that sacrificed as many as 80,000 human beings each year to appease their gods. Spaniards searching for gold and souls subsequently conquered the Indians, and Aztecs began converting to Christianity.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is thought to have brought reconciliation between the Europeans and the native Mexicans. More than nine million Mexicans were baptized in the decade following the appearance of Our Lady on Tepeyac Hill.
Best of all, Mary left her image for posterity as Our Lady of Guadalupe, imprinted and preserved in some miraculous way on the cactus-fiber coat, or tilma, of St. Juan Diego. Mexicans immediately saw themselves in her. Half Indian and half Spanish, they realized in Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe that the mother of God was speaking directly to them. For more than 460 years, devotion to Mary in Mexico has been intense.
Catholics there walk for miles, many of them barefoot, to make it to the Mass of the Roses in Mexico City on Dec. 12 every year. The basilica where the famous tilma is displayed was designed so that tens of thousands could see into the church from the enormous square that surrounds it. The basilica has no pews but accommodates approximately 50,000 worshippers standing in the two levels of the huge church. The sanctuary can hold dozens of concelebrating priests and bishops.
Even on non-feast days, Masses are celebrated non-stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, every hour on the hour of every day every year. Confessions are also heard all day, every day.
In 1999, on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, Pope John Paul II published his apostolic exhortation called “Ecclesia in America.” In it, the pontiff proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe as the Patroness of the Americas.
Since then, devotion to her has blossomed even among non-Latinos in the United States. Because she is depicted wearing a sash that indicates pregnancy in Indian dress, she is being advanced in pro-life causes.
On Dec. 12 in Mauldin, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe was observed with an evening fiesta at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church. It was sponsored by the Columbiettes Chapter 8182, a woman’s group affiliated with the Knights of Columbus.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe is special to me,” said Beth Moss, organizer of the fiesta and financial secretary of the Mauldin Columbiettes. “She brought me into the church.”
In the mid-nineties, Moss, a Southern Baptist at the time, toured some Spanish missions in California and became fascinated by the devotion she noted there to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
She began to study the history of the event and became convinced of the worth of Marian devotion. She was received into the church on Dec. 8, 1997, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton fiesta included traditional Mexican food, a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and music. Its purpose, Moss said, was to celebrate the feast day and to “honor her as the Patroness of the Americas.”