Following the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe marks the second Marian feast day of the Advent season. On December 12, the Catholic Church celebrates the day Mary appeared as a pregnant woman to Blessed Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. In light of the many connections between this apparition and the pro-life cause, it is fitting that Our Lady of Guadalupe is recognized not only as Patroness of the Americas, but Patroness of the Unborn.
Most Catholics are familiar with the basic story: Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego and asked that a shrine be built on the Hill of Tepeyac, but the local bishop did not believe the poor Aztec when he tried to convey her message. Juan Diego returned to Our Lady, who told him to gather roses (which had grown miraculously out of season) from that spot and take them back to the bishop as a sign. When Juan Diego unfurled his tilma full of roses before the bishop, the image of Our Lady was imprinted there on the cloak. It is still there today, hanging in what is now a basilica just outside Mexico City.
Yet, the full significance of this feast cannot be understood without historical context. In the 16th century, the Aztecs still practiced ritual human sacrifice. They believed in an unstable universe ruled by hateful gods, whom they had no choice but to appease with innocent blood. Thus, the conversion of 9 million Aztecs because of the image’s presence among their people, and subsequent abolishment of human sacrifice, represents a fundamental change in worldview. Our Lady brought hope into what had been a culture of despair; no longer was God seen as a cold forbidding entity, but part of the human family, our own flesh and blood.
Almost 500 years later, the Americas are still in need of Our Lady’s intervention against a parallel tragedy. In our modern culture of despair, so many women “choose” abortion because they feel trapped, abandoned, and hopeless. Like the Aztecs, they see no alternative for their own survival in a cold and lonely world but to end their children’s lives. They are bound by fear and by a society that says they have no choice.
Our Lady of Guadalupe counters this theology of despair, both for the Aztecs and for the Americas today, through her carrying of Jesus Christ as an unborn child in her womb. As the mother of God, she reveals His loving, living presence in our world, His real unity with us expressed by His willingness to become a human being in its most vulnerable state. There is no need to dread bringing life into a broken world, because He is with us, willing our good.
Likewise, Our Lady of Guadalupe extends her motherly care and protection to all humanity, identifying herself to Juan Diego as “the mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all humankind.” She calls on the Church to bear this mantle in our pro-life work, and comforts all who fear uncertainty: “Hear and let it penetrate your hearts, my dear little ones. Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you; let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Do not fear vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?”