International Marian Congress Opening
JW Marriott Hotel, Phoenix, Arizona
Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight
Your Excellencies, Rev. Msgr. Chávez, brother Knights, ladies and gentlemen, fellow Guadalupanos, it is indeed an honor to open this first Marian Congress on Our Lady of Guadalupe, an international gathering to discuss the history, meaning and continued relevance of her message. It is striking how the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe began. In 1531, it was taken, on foot, on a path from Tepeyac hill. It was a message carried by one man to another, from one layman to his bishop. Her image was revealed, not in a cathedral or a gathering of state, but in the home of Zumárraga, together with his companions and his servants.
At that moment, neither Juan Diego, nor Bishop Zumarraga, could have imagined that her message would be carried on foot to the outermost reaches of our hemisphere, and her image taken into millions of homes.
Who – but Our Lady of Guadalupe herself, and her son – could have foreseen today, that almost 500 years later, the faithful from around the world would gather here, hundreds of miles to the North, to begin this Guadalupan triduum and to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe as the mother of each one of us, and of an entire hemisphere.
For when we celebrate that event in 1531, we do not recall it dimly not as some memory made faint by time, but as a living message. And when we speak about her and hear about her today, we understand that she is not some story embellished and made garish by fiction, but that her apparition was an event that served as a pivotal moment in the history of the faith of an entire hemisphere. It is also an event that serves as a continuing source of inspiration and unity for all who live in the Americas today.
Perhaps Pope John Paul II put it best, when he wrote in 1999:
“The appearance of Mary to the native, Juan Diego, on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization. Its influence greatly overflows the boundary of Mexico, spreading to the whole continent. America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, ‘in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization.’ Consequently, not only in Central and South America, but in North America as well, the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated as the Queen of all America.”
The truth of this statement is obvious here in Phoenix. But one year ago, the Knights of Columbus held its convention far to the North, in Quebec. While we were there, along with our board of directors, I visited the nearby shrine of St. Anne du Beaupre. There, prominently displayed in that Basilica, was the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, New Spain stretched from Seattle far to the South. Today, her territory has grown.
Few people have the unifying power to bring together a widely diverse group of nations under one mantle: but Our Lady of Guadalupe has done just that. Our Lady of Guadalupe brought to her son Jesus Christ, Juan Diego’s contemporaries, who converted in great abundance in the years following her apparition. She has done the same ever since.
In the 17th century, the Jesuit missionaries in Arizona carried her image with them as they brought the Native Americans to Christ. The Franciscan missionaries in California did the same a century later. With these missionaries, mile by mile, Our Lady of Guadalupe has navigated our seas and walked our hemisphere, again uniting us through Christ.
Through Our Lady of Guadalupe, our bond of faith is strong not only its geographical breadth, but its depth of belief. In the persecution of the Catholic Church in the 1920s in Mexico, many, like the Knights of Columbus martyrs whom we honored at Mass this morning. Before their executions, they would usually say “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe.” That statement of devotion to Christ’s mother, was often the last word uttered by these martyrs before they met Christ their king in paradise.
And it was then that the unity of Our Lady of Guadalupe was expressed by the Catholics on this side of the border in our quest for religious freedom. Led by the Knights of Columbus, they clamored for justice and lobbied the U.S. government to help broker an end to the persecution, in solidarity with their Catholic brothers and sisters to the South.
After that situation had stabilized somewhat, in another sign of hemispheric unity and solidarity, in 1941 with an America about to be drawn into a world war, it was to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe that the bishops of many countries including the United States came together to pray for peace and protection. Archbishop John Cantwell of Los Angeles led the delegation of American bishops, and his presence and message there were powerful statements of the concern that Catholics in the United States had for the Church in Mexico in those post-persecution years.
In fact, it was that trip that motivated the Archbishop of Mexico to give to Cantwell the piece of the tilma of St. Juan Diego that we have here in our presence today on loan from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.
In 2003, it was this very piece of the tilma – on a tour co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus – that brought together tens of thousands of people of every background in more than 20 U.S. cities. At every stop along the way, that unity in our mother that transcended cultures and borders was apparent. And those who came came because they sought to put into practice that call to love embodied in their mestiza mother.
For hundreds of years she has brought many together in a different way as well. We need only think for a moment of all of those, who come to the foot of her image and receive her son in the Eucharist, to understand that the ultimate goal of her message is unity in her son.
And today, we are gathered here in that same spirit of unity.
As we look around this room, we see pilgrims from throughout the hemisphere and throughout the world, and it is a powerful reminder for all of us that the love of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the faith of Juan Diego were the catalysts of the conversion of millions in the 1530s, and remain a sustaining element in the faith of the American continent today.
If her message is unity, it is also universal. It is for the most powerful and the most humble. It was for the Spaniard and the Indian. Her message was for the elderly, like Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino, and appearing as a pregnant woman, her message was for those not yet born as well. In short, her message was for everyone.
Our Lady’s call remains universal today: it is a message for the Spanish speaking migrant, for the English speaking American, and for the French speaking Canadian. It remains a call to respect all life – born or unborn.
If we listen to the loving message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we will find a message that transcends borders, races, or cultural difference, and instead unites all of us as children of the mother of the civilization of love. She calls us to follow in her footsteps, and Juan Diego’s, saying yes to Christ, working together with our bishops and priests, and leading others by example to the joy that is a life lived in communion with Jesus Christ.
We do well to place our confidence in the Virgen de Guadalupe. For if she could heal the divide between Aztec and Spaniard in 1531, certainly she can heal the rifts on our continent today, for what unites us as citizens of this Christian hemisphere is our faith, and that is far greater than anything divides us.
It is appropriate, I think, that we are holding this Congress in the Southwestern United States, which is a cultural crossroads.
And at this congress, over the next two and a half days, we will learn a great deal from a variety of experts about:
- the historical and cultural context of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
- the scientific discoveries that continue to shed light on her message after five centuries,
- the message of love encoded on the image itself, and
- The unifying force of Our Lady of Guadalupe on our hemisphere.
But we are not simply here to learn, nor should we view this as an academic exercise. We are here because we love Our Lady of Guadalupe, our mother, and in learning more about her, we can both deepen that love and better answer her call to be witnesses in our own lives to the love and unity she brings, and calls us to.
Let us listen to each lecture, to each speaker, let us look at the art she has inspired and in each case, let us grow in faith.
It is up to us to take up her message and to make sure that the future of this continent is one of hope, and that our civilization is one of love. If we truly take to heart the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, then together, we can build a unified civilization of love, one soul, one parish, one diocese, one country at a time.