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Our Lady of Guadalupe: Icon has survived centuries

Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe are printed on jewelry and T-shirts. Rivers, mountains and towns bear her name. Her image is displayed in homes and cathedrals and both males and females are named after her.

Since the first reported apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531, this Virgin Mary figure has become not only a religious and cultural, but even a pop culture icon.

Sunday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Wednesday was the feast of her immaculate conception. The Catholic holiday on Sunday marks the 473rd anniversary of the date she is believed to have appeared to a poor Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, in Mexico and performed miracles on Tepeyac Hill — the site where Aztecs worshiped a pagan goddess, Tonantzin. A huge basilica in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe now stands at this site.

For the almost five centuries since the first alleged appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, this maternal figure — described in the Bible as “She that will crush the serpent’s head” — has not been without controversy.

There have been numerous reported appearances, ranging from the wacky (on tortillas, and most recently on a grilled-cheese sandwich that sold for $28,000 on eBay) to heart-warming incidents where’s she’s credited with performing miracles.

There’s not room here for a thorough analysis of Our Lady of Guadalupe and I’m not going to try to impose my beliefs on people. What I will give you, though, is my perspective (that’s what columnists do). I’ll also attempt to dispel some of the common misunderstandings about this Biblical figure who holds a special place in my heart.

For starters, Catholics don’t worship the Virgin Mary. We don’t pray to her. In the “Hail Mary” prayer, we ask her to “pray for us sinners.” That’s something all of us ask of our friends and religious leaders like Billy Graham.

In fact, the “Hail Mary” is straight from the Bible. The angel Gabriel appears to her and says “Hail Mary, full of grace.” And reciting a rosary is not a mechanistic prayer to Mary. It’s a meditation on the passion of Christ. Anyone who worships Mary is not practicing Catholicism, but a folk religion.

For Christians, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the mother of our lord, pure and simple. However, we believe she was born without original sin, so that makes her more than just another woman. In 1946, Pope Pius XII declared her the “Patrones of the Americas.” What’s wrong with that? We hold our first ladies in high esteem, as well as the queen mothers of England and other celebrities.

One thing that gets me is people who say we worship idols because of Mary statues. Many people have collections of angels and crosses floating around their homes. That doesn’t mean they worship these objects.

I’ve heard heartwarming stories about Medjugorje, a place of recent “Marion” sightings, as they’re called. Then there’s the documented account of a man who put a bomb at the altar of the Mexican basilica in the 1920s. The altar was damaged, but not the tilma on which Our Lady of Guadalupe allegedly left an image of herself. Experts still can’t explain why this tilma hasn’t decayed.

I’ve witnessed a miracle myself ... well more of an affirmation. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was the early 1980s. A huge outdoor fiesta in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe was held in Clovis. Late that clear afternoon, many people spotted rays of red, white and green in the sky overhead, the colors associated with this Mexican version of the Virgin Mary. It was distinct, not the result of ultraviolet rays.

Then In 1988, hundreds of people reported a Marion experience in Lubbock, and ABC TV’s “20/20” did a documentary.

Believe what you will, but rest assured, Marion sighting will continue — some wacky and completely absurd — but others that will make you stop and wonder.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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