One thing I recommend everyone experience at least once in their lives, is the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For us Catholics in North America, especially Mexico and where there are large populations of Mexicans, it is a big religious feast day, and my favorite mass of the year. It's the one mass I like to invite non-Catholics, too, because it's as much a historical and cultural experience as it is a spiritual one. Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrates our Holy Mother of the Americas, and it's a celebration of bringing people together, of worlds coming together, and most importantly it is the celebration of a mother's love. We celebrate Our Lady on December 12th each year with Aztec dancers and Mariachi music, and this year was especially special in my parish, because our Jewish and Muslim neighbors joined us in the celebration, truly symbolizing the coming together of people. Keep reading for more about this special feast day celebrating a Jewish mother, whose name has Arabic roots, and some interesting facts.
The story takes places in 1531AD when the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous man whose name I'm guessing was not originally Juan Diego, on the Hill of Tepeyac, just outside of what is today Mexico City. During this time, Spanish colonizers were brutal with natives. Why would anyone convert to Catholicism when they were being oppressed by Catholics on their own land? So, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, speaking his native language of Nahuatl. One thing I love greatly about the Virgin Mother is that wherever in the world she appeared, she appeared in a way that was familiar to the people of that land. So when she appeared in Lourdes, she looked like a French woman. Here on Tepeyac she appeared as a Mestiza--a little bit Spanish and a little bit native.
Our Lady asked Juan Diego to build a church on this site in her honor, so Juan Diego went to the archbishop of Mexico City to tel him what had happened. Of course, the archbishop did not believe him. So then she appeared to Juan Diego again, and asked him to keep insisting. The second time Juan Diego went to the archbishop, the archbishop sent him back to Tepeyac and asked him to ask the lady for a true and miraculous sign to prove who she was. So, she appeared to Juan Diego again on Tepeyac and agreed to the request. She told him to expect the miracle the next day, December 11th. Unfortunately, Juan Diego's uncle fell ill the next day and he had to help his uncle, therefore missed meeting the Holy Mother. When he went to fetch a priest for his uncle on the 12th for a final confession and blessing, he tried to go around the hill to avoid the embarrassment of seeing the Holy Mother after not meeting her the previous day. However, she appeared to him anyways. She asked him, "¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?" (Am I not here, I who am your mother?). Then she preceded to assure him that his uncle was fully recovered and to go to the top of the hill to gather flowers. The hill was normally barren, especially in December, but when Juan Diego made his way to the top of the hill, it was full of blooming Castillian roses, not native to Mexico. The Holy Mother helped arrange the flowers in his tilma (his cloak), and when he opened his cloak to the bishop, the flowers fell out and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted on his cloak. This cloak was made of poor material and should have deteriorated within decades, but 488 years later the tilma shows no signs of decay.
Our Lady also appeared to Juan Diego's uncle and she instructed him to tell the archbishop of his miracle healing and that she wished to be known under the title Guadalupe. "Guada" derives from the Arabic word wadi, meaning valley or river, and "lupe" derives from the Latin word lupus meaning wolf. Should you remember your history lessons, Spain has its own history of mixed races, cultures, and religions. So its a fitting name she chose.
This is my favorite mass and feast day, because it's the most fun, and as I previously mentioned it's as much a cultural and historical experience as it is spiritual. The Aztec dancers and music bring an energy level that is inspiring and infectious. And what's more warming than celebrating a mother's love? It's a perfect Christmas season celebration and very much has everything to do with Christmas.
Be sure to experience Our Lady of Guadalupe at some point in your life! Of course, there's nothing like celebrating this feast day than in Mexico, but as a Catholic Angeleno I feel we do a pretty good job of it here as well, and it's a big part of our culture and identity.
My dream is to make it to the basilica one day!