Share this story

 | By Alison Blanchet

Appreciating the Universal Church With Our Lady of Guadalupe

Many years ago, when I was young enough to think 26 hours on a bus sounded fun, my friends and I rode from Belize, where we were living, to Mexico City for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I had heard the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe when I was young and was excited to see the image of the Blessed Mother.

The image of Our Lady — which has been miraculously unaffected by the elements and even a bomb that damaged much of the church it was housed in in the early 1900s — is astounding to behold in person. So much so that when I was there, visitors observed it by boarding a moving walkway, presumably to prevent one from simply gawking and holding up foot traffic. To realize that this image, whose origins cannot be explained except by miraculous intervention, has stood for hundreds of years as a sign of God’s desire to share the Gospel with the Americas is incredible to behold.

Also incredible were the millions of people gathered to celebrate the feast day. Millions. Just for one day. I’ve attended World Youth Day and several March for Life events in Washington, D.C., but nothing will ever compare to the crowds I saw running, walking, riding horses and cycling to Mexico City from hundreds of miles away to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and her intercession and influence in their lives.

There were seemingly endless groups that were dressed in spectacular traditional outfits performing dances and other acts of honor in the vast square that surrounded the basilica — we saw juggling, tightrope walking and sort of fencing, just to name a few. We hadn’t expected this and at first didn’t understand what all the demonstrations were for, naively thinking it was entertainment for the visitors. When groups finished, they would all kneel in the direction of the basilica and gesture, reverently, to the image. Gradually, we began to understand that this wasn’t entertainment for us, it was an act of honor and reverence.

My friend whispered, surprised, “It’s all for HER!”

My encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe and the millions of others that took the pilgrimage to celebrate this feast that year gave me a new understanding and appreciation for the universality of our Church. It can be easy to fall into the mindset that “church” is the geographical boundary of our parish or diocese, full of people similar to us. Our Lady of Guadalupe, both the image and the celebration of this feast, are a powerful testimony that God’s message of salvation is for everyone.

Celebrating our faith outside of what’s familiar can be intimidating but also so enriching. Every year, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds me of my pilgrimage to Mexico City and my experience of prayer and worship in a completely new culture. If it’s been a while since you attended Mass in another language or prayed or worshipped outside of what’s familiar or typical for you, consider a mini pilgrimage. Celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, attend a parish Advent mission or visit a parish you don’t typically attend. Shaking up our routine enriches our faith and opens our eyes to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Alison Blanchet lives in Panama City with her husband and children. Email her at