Home - VIS Vatican - Receive VIS - Contact us - Calendar

The Vatican Information Service is a news service, founded in the Holy See Press Office, that provides information about the Magisterium and the pastoral activities of the Holy Father and the Roman Curia...[]

Last 5 news

VISnews in Twitter Go to YouTube

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The ancestral culture and human resources of Mexico are the basis for committed solidarity

Vatican City, 14 February 2016 (VIS) - "Today I come as a missionary of mercy and of peace but also as a son who wishes to pay homage to his mother, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, and place himself under her watchful care. Endeavouring to be a good son, following in our mother’s footsteps, I wish in turn to pay my respects to this people and to this land which is so rich in culture, history, and diversity", said Pope Francis in his first discourse on Mexican soil, before the authorities and representatives of civil society gathered in the Mexican Palacio Nacional. He was received by President Enrique Pena Nieto, with whom he had spoken previously, presenting him the gift of a mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe produced by the Vatican Mosaic Studio.

"Mexico is a great country", exclaimed the Holy Father. "It is blessed with abundant natural resources and with an enormous biodiversity that extends across its vast territory. Its privileged geographical position makes it a reference point for America; and its indigenous, mestizo and criollo cultures endow it with its own identity that facilitates a cultural richness not always easy to find and, particularly, to value. The ancestral wisdom shown by your multiculturalism is, by far, one of your greatest biographical resources. It is an identity that learned gradually how to shape itself amid diversity and that now constitutes, without any doubt, a rich patrimony to be valued, encouraged and protected".

However, the Pope observed that "Mexico’s principal richness today has a young face", as young people constitute over half the population. "This makes it possible to contemplate and plan for a future, for a tomorrow of hope and future prospects. A people with a youthful population is a people able to renew and transform itself; it is an invitation to look to the future with hope and, in turn, it challenges us in a positive way here and now. This reality inevitably leads us to think about one’s own responsibilities when it comes to constructing the kind of Mexico we want, the Mexico that we want to pass on to coming generations. It also leads us to the realisation that a hope-filled future is forged in a present made up of men and women who are upright, honest, and capable of working for the common good, the 'common good' which in this twenty-first century is not in such great demand. Experience teaches us that each time we seek the path of privileges or benefits for a few to the detriment of the good of all, sooner or later the life of society becomes a fertile soil for corruption, drug trade, exclusion of different cultures, violence and also human trafficking, kidnapping and death, bringing suffering and slowing down development".

The Holy Father emphasised that the Mexican people "anchors its hope in an identity which has been shaped in the trying and difficult moments of its history. It was forged by the wonderful witness of citizens who understood that, in order to overcome situations born of the obstinacy of individualism, it was necessary to have agreement between the political, social and financial institutions, and of all men and women committed to the common good and the promotion of the dignity of the human person. An ancestral culture together with encouraging human resources such as yours, should be a stimulus to find new forms of dialogue, negotiation, and bridges that can lead us on the way of committed solidarity. Starting with those who call themselves Christians, it is a commitment to which all of us must give of ourselves, for the construction of a 'political life on a truly human basis', and a society in which no one feels a victim of the culture of waste".

"Leaders of social, cultural and political life have the particular duty to offer all citizens the opportunity to be worthy contributors of their own future, within their families and in all areas where human social interaction takes place. In this way they help citizens to have real access to the material and spiritual goods which are indispensable: adequate housing, dignified employment, food, true justice, effective security, a healthy and peaceful environment. This is not just a question of laws which need to be updated and improved – something always necessary – but rather a need for urgent formation of the personal responsibility of each individual, with full respect for others as men and women jointly responsible in promoting the advancement of the nation. It is a task which involves all Mexicans in different spheres, public or private, collective or individual".

The Pope assured President Nieto that in this effort, the Government of Mexico "can count on the cooperation of the Catholic Church, which has accompanied the life of this nation and which renews its commitment and willingness to serve the great causes of mankind: the building of the civilisation of love".

"I am ready to travel around this beautiful and wide country as a missionary and as a pilgrim who wishes to renew with all of you the experience of mercy as a new horizon of opportunity which inevitably brings justice and peace. I also entrust myself to the gaze of Mary, the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, I ask her to watch over me, so that by her intercession the merciful Father may grant that these days and the future of this land be an opportunity for encounter, unity and peace. Thank you".

To the bishops of Mexico: bring God’s fruitfulness to the Mexican nation

Vatican City, 14 February 2016 (VIS) – From the Palacio Nacional, the Pope travelled by popemobile to the nearby Plaza de la Constitucion, where the Cathedral of the Assumption is located. Also known as "Zocalo", the square has great symbolic value as it was built on the remains of the political and religious centre of the capital of the Aztec empire, Tenochititlan. The Cathedral, constructed from volcanic rock, stands on the site of a temple dedicated to the Aztec deity Xipe. At the behest of Hernan Cortes a church was built there using materials from the ancient shrines, and Pope Clement VII declared it a cathedral in 1530, while his successor Paul III elevated it to metropolitan rank in 1567. The construction of the current temple began in 1657, but it was not concluded until 1813.

The Holy Father spoke to the bishops, expressing first his joy at being able to see the "Virgen Morenita", and for being able to meet with them in the Cathedral, "a larger 'casita' ('little house') and yet always sagrada ('sacred'), as the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe had requested".

"I know that here is found the secret heart of each Mexican, and I enter with soft footsteps as is fitting for one who enters the home and soul of this people; and I am deeply grateful for you having opened your doors to me. I know that by looking into the eyes of the Blessed Virgin I am able to follow the gaze of her sons and daughters who, in her, have learned to express themselves. I know that no other voice can speak so powerfully to me of the Mexican heart as the Blessed Mother can; she guards its highest aspirations and most hidden hopes; she gathers its joys and its tears. She understands its various languages and she responds with a Mother’s tenderness because these men and women are her own children".

The Pope asked those present to "allow la Guadalupana to be the starting point of everything I will say to you", and spoke about the gaze of Our Lady: a gaze of tenderness, a vision able to build, a careful and watchful gaze that is never dormant, and a holistic and unified vision. His discourse to the episcopate was based on these characteristics, applied to the needs and hopes of the Mexican people, ranging from reconciliation of the past with a future that …...., to the condemnation of violence and drug trafficking, with special attention to the Amerindian populations and large-scale migration.

The following is the text of the Pope's address:

"A gaze of tenderness

Above all, la Virgen Morenita teaches us that the only power capable of conquering the hearts of men and women is the tenderness of God. That which delights and attracts, that which humbles and overcomes, that which opens and unleashes, is not the power of instruments or the force of law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of its gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of its mercy.

A rather inquisitive and famous literary figure of yours, Octavio Paz, said that in Guadalupe great harvests and fertile lands are no longer prayed for, but instead a place of rest where people, still orphaned and disinherited, may seek a place of refuge, a home.

With centuries having gone by since the founding event of this country and the evangelisation of the continent, it may be asked: has the need been diluted or even forgotten for that place of rest so ardently desired by the hearts of Mexicans entrusted to your care?

I know the long and painful history which you have gone through has not been without much bloodshed, impetuous and heartbreaking upheavals, and violence and incomprehension. With good reason my venerable and saintly predecessor, who felt at home here in Mexico, wished to remind us: 'Like rivers that are sometimes hidden and plentiful, converge at times and at others reveal their complementary differences, without ever merging completely: the ancient and rich sensitivity of the indigenous peoples loved by Juan de Zumárraga and Vasco de Quiroga, whom many of these peoples continue to call fathers; Christianity, rooted in the Mexican soul; and modern rationality of the European kind, which wanted so much to exalt independence and freedom'.

And in this history, the maternal place of rest which continually brought life to Mexico, although sometimes seeming like 'a net of a hundred and fifty-three fish', was never without fruit, was always able to heal the divisions which threatened.

For this reason I invite you to begin anew from that need for a place of rest which wells up from the spirit of your people. The restful place of the Christian faith is capable of reconciling a past, often marked by loneliness, isolation and rejection, with a future, continually relegated to a tomorrow which just slips away. Only in that place of faith can we, without renouncing our own identity, 'discover the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God'.

Bow down then, quietly and respectfully, towards the profound spirit of your people, go down with care and decipher its mysterious face. The present, so often mixed with dispersion and festivity, is it not for God a preparatory stage, for He who alone is fully present? Familiarity with pain and death, are they not forms of courage and pathways to hope? And the view that the world is always and uniquely in need of redemption, is this not an antidote to the proud self-sufficiency of those who think they can do without God?

Naturally, for this reason it is necessary to have an outlook capable of reflecting the tenderness of God. I ask you, therefore, to be bishops who have a pure vision, a transparent soul, and a joyful face. Do not fear transparency. The Church does not need darkness to carry out her work. Be vigilant so that your vision will not be darkened by the gloomy mist of worldliness; do not allow yourselves to be corrupted by trivial materialism or by the seductive illusion of underhanded agreements; do not place your faith in the 'chariots and horses' of today’s Pharaohs, for our strength is in 'the pillar of fire' which divides the sea in two, without much fanfare.

The world in which the Lord calls us to carry out our mission has become extremely complicated. And even the proud notion of cogito, which at least did not deny that there was a rock on the sand of being, is today dominated by a view of life which more than ever many consider to be hesitant, itinerant and lawless because it lacks a firm foundation. Frontiers so passionately invoked and upheld are now open to the irony of a world in which the power of some can no longer survive without the vulnerability of others. The irreversible hybridisation of technology brings closer what is distant; sadly, however, it also distances what should be close.

And it is in this very world, as it is, that God asks you to have a view capable of grasping that plea which cries out from the heart of your people, a plea which has its own calendar day, the Feast of crying out. This cry needs a response: God exists and is close in Jesus Christ. Only God is the reality upon which we can build, because, 'God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face'.

Observing your faces, the Mexican people have the right to witness the signs of those 'who have seen the Lord', of those who have been with God. This is essential. Therefore, do not lose time or energy in secondary things, in gossip or intrigue, in conceited schemes of careerism, in empty plans for superiority, in unproductive groups that seek benefits or common interests. Do not allow yourselves to be dragged into gossip and slander. Introduce your priests into a that correct understanding of sacred ministry. For us ministers of God it is enough to have the grace to 'drink the cup of the Lord', the gift of protecting that portion of the heritage which has been entrusted to us, though we may be unskilled administrators. Let us allow the Father to assign the place He has prepared for us. Can we really be concerned with affairs that are not the Father’s? Away from the 'Father’s affairs' we lose our identity and, through our own fault, empty his grace of meaning.

If our vision does not witness to having seen Jesus, then the words with which we recall him will be rhetorical and empty figures of speech. They may perhaps express the nostalgia of those who cannot forget the Lord, but who have become, at any rate, mere babbling orphans beside a tomb. Finally, they may be words that are incapable of preventing this world of ours from being abandoned and reduced to its own desperate power.

I think of the need to offer a maternal place of rest to young people. May your vision be capable of meeting theirs, loving them and understanding what they search for with that energy that inspired many like them to leave behind their boats and nets on the other side of the sea, to leave the abuses of the banking sector so as to follow the Lord on the path of true wealth.

I am concerned about those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialise death in exchange for money which, in the end, 'moth and rust consume' and 'thieves break in and steal'. I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for the youth and for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the Church.

The magnitude of this phenomenon, the complexity of its causes, its immensity and its scope which devours like a metastasis, and the gravity of the violence which divides with its distorted expressions, do not allow us as Pastors of the Church to hide behind anodyne denunciations – forms of abstract thinking. Rather they demand of us a prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan, so that we can gradually help build that fragile network of human relationships without which all of us would be defeated from the outset in the face of such an insidious threat. Only by starting with families, by drawing close and embracing the fringes of human existence in the ravaged areas of our cities and by seeking the involvement of parish communities, schools, community institutions, political communities and institutions responsible for security, will people finally escape the raging waters that drown so many, either victims of the drug trade or those who stand before God with their hands drenched in blood, though with pockets filled with sordid money and their consciences deadened. Returning to the gaze of Mary of Guadalupe, I want to add a second consideration:

A vision that can build

In the mantle of the Mexican spirit, God, with the thread of mestizo characteristics, has woven and revealed in la Morenita the face of the Mexican people. God does not need subdued colours to design this face, for His designs are not conditioned by colours or threads but rather by the permanence of his love which constantly desires to imprint itself upon us.

Therefore, be bishops who are capable of imitating this freedom of God who chooses the humble in order to reveal the majesty of His countenance; capable of reproducing this divine patience by weaving the new man which your country awaits with the fine thread made of the men and women you encounter. Do not be led by empty efforts to change people as if the love of God is not powerful enough to bring about change.

Rediscover the wise and humble constancy that the Fathers of faith of this country passed onto successive generations with the language of divine mystery. They did this by first learning and then teaching the grammar needed to dialogue with God; a God concealed within centuries of searching and then brought close in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, Who is our future and Who is recognised as such by so many men and women when they behold his bloody and humiliated face. Imitate His gracious humility and His bowing down to help us. We will never comprehend sufficiently how, with the mestizo threads of our people, God has woven the face by which He is to be known. We can never be thankful enough for this bowing down, for this 'sincatábasis'.

I ask you to show singular tenderness in the way you regard indigenous peoples, them and their fascinating but not infrequently decimated cultures. Mexico needs its American-Indian roots so as not to remain an unresolved enigma. The indigenous people of Mexico still await true recognition of the richness of their contribution and the fruitfulness of their presence. In this way they can inherit that identity which transforms them into a single nation and not only an identity among other identities.

On many occasions, much has been said about a supposedly failed future of this nation, about a labyrinth of loneliness in which it is imprisoned by its geography as well as by a fate which ensnares it. For some, all of this is an obstacle to the plan for a unified face, an adult identity, a unique position among the concert of nations and a shared mission.

For others, the Church in Mexico is also regarded as being either condemned to suffer the inferior position to which it was relegated in some periods of its past, as for example when its voice was silenced and efforts were made to eradicate it; or condemned to venture into expressions of fundamentalism thus holding onto provisional certainties – as that famous 'cogito' – while forgetting to have in its heart the thirst for the Absolute and be called in Christ to unite everyone and not just a portion.

On the other hand, never cease to remind your people of how powerful their ancient roots are, roots which have allowed a vibrant Christian synthesis of human, cultural and spiritual unity which was forged here. Remember that the wings of your people have spread on various occasions to rise above changing situations. Protect the memory of the long journey undertaken so far – be deuteronomical – and know how to inspire the hope of attaining new heights because the future will bear a land 'rich in fruit' even if it involves considerable challenges.

May your vision, always and solely resting upon Christ, be capable of contributing to the unity of the people in your care; of favouring the reconciliation of its differences and the integration of its diversities; of promoting a solution to its endogenous problems; of remembering the high standards which Mexico can attain when it learns to belong to itself rather than to others; of helping to find shared and sustainable solutions to its misfortunes; of motivating the entire nation to not be content with less than what is expected of a Mexican way of living in the world. A third thought:

A vision that is close and attentive, not dormant

I urge you to not fall into that paralysation of standard responses to new questions. Your past is a source of riches to be mined and which can inspire the present and illumine the future. How unfortunate you are if you sit on your laurels! It is important not to squander the inheritance you have received by protecting it through constant work. You stand on the shoulders of giants: bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful 'unto the end', who have offered their lives so that the Church can fulfil her own mission. ' From those heights you are called to turn your gaze to the Lord’s vineyard to plan the sowing and wait for the harvest.

I invite you to give yourselves tirelessly, tirelessly and fearlessly to the task of evangelizing and deepening the faith by means of a mystagogical catechesis that treasures the popular religiosity of the people. Our times require pastoral attention to persons and groups who hope to encounter the living Jesus. Only the courageous pastoral conversion – and I underline pastoral conversion – of our communities can seek, generate and nourish today’s disciples of the Lord.

Hence it is necessary for us Pastors to overcome the temptation of aloofness – and I leave it up to each of you to list the kinds of aloofness that can exist in this Episcopal Conference; I do not know them, but it is important to overcome this temptation – and clericalism, of coldness and indifference, of triumphalism and self-centredness. Guadalupe teaches us that God is known, and is closer to us, by his countenance and that closeness and humility, that bowing down and drawing close, are more powerful than force.

As the wonderful Guadalupana tradition teaches us, la Morenita gathers together those who contemplate her, and reflects the faces of those who find her. It is essential to learn that there is something unique in every person who looks to us in their search for God. We must guard against becoming impervious to such gazes but rather gather them to our hearts and guard them.

Only a Church able to shelter the faces of men and women who knock on her doors will be able to speak to them of God. If we do not know how to decipher their sufferings, if we do not come to understand their needs, then we can offer them nothing. The richness we have flows only when we encounter the smallness of those who beg and this encounter occurs precisely in our hearts, the hearts of Pastors.

And the first face I ask you to guard in your hearts is that of your priests. Do not leave them exposed to loneliness and abandonment, easy prey to a worldliness that devours the heart. Be attentive and learn how to read their expressions so as to rejoice with them when they feel the joy of recounting all that they have 'done and taught'. Also, do not step back when they feel humiliated and can only cry because they 'have denied the Lord', and, why not, also offer your support, in communion with Christ, when one of them, already disheartened, goes out with Judas into 'the night'. As bishops in these situations, your paternal care for your priests must never be found wanting. Encourage communion among them; seek the perfection of their gifts; involve them in great ventures, for the heart of an apostle was not made for small things.

The need for familiarity abides in the heart of God. Our Lady of Guadalupe therefore asks for a casita sagrada, a 'small holy home'. Our Latin American populations know well the diminutive forms of expression – a casita sagrada – and use them willingly. Perhaps they need to use the diminutive forms because they would feel lost otherwise. They have adapted themselves to feeling small and have grown accustomed to living modestly.

When the Church congregates in a majestic Cathedral, she should not fail to see herself as a 'small home' in which her children can feel comfortable. We remain in God’s presence only when we are little ones, orphans and beggars. The actors in the history of salvation are beggars.

A 'small home', casita, is familiar and at the same time 'holy', sagrada, for it is filled by God’s omnipotent greatness. We are guardians of this mystery. Perhaps we have lost the sense of the humble ways of the divine and are tired of offering our own men and women the casita in which they feel close to God. On occasion, a disregard for the sense of omnipotent greatness has led to a partial loss of reverential fear towards such great love. Where God lives, man cannot enter without being invited in and he can only enter 'taking off his shoes', so as to confess his unworthiness.

Our having forgotten this 'taking off our shoes' in order to enter, is this perhaps not the root cause of that lost sense of the sacredness of human life, of the person, of fundamental values, of the wisdom accumulated along the centuries, and of respect for the environment? Without rescuing within the consciences of men and women and of society these profound roots and the generous efforts to promote legitimate human rights, the vital sap will be lacking; and it is a sap that comes only from a source which humanity itself cannot procure. And, always with out eyes on Mary, I conclude with a final thought:

A holistic and unified vision

Only by looking at la Morenita can Mexico be understood in its entirety. And so I invite you to appreciate that the mission which the Church today entrusts to you, and has always done so, demands a vision embracing the whole. This cannot be realised in an isolated manner, but only in communion.

La Guadalupana has a ribbon around her waist which proclaims her fecundity. She is the Blessed Virgin who already has in her womb the Son awaited by men and women. She is the Mother who already carries the humanity of a newborn world. She is the Bride who prefigures the maternal fruitfulness of Christ’s Church. You have been entrusted with the mission of enrobing the Mexican nation with God’s fruitfulness. No part of this ribbon can be despised.

The Mexican episcopate has made significant strides in these years since the Council; it has increased its members; it has promoted permanent formation which is consistent and professional; there has been a fraternal atmosphere; the spirit of collegiality has matured; the pastoral efforts have had an influence on your local Churches and on the conscience of the nation; the shared pastoral initiatives have been fruitful in vital areas of the Church’s mission, such as the family, vocations, and the Church’s presence in society.

While we are encouraged by the path taken during these years, I would ask you not to lose heart in the face of difficulties and not to spare any effort in promoting, among yourselves and in your dioceses, a missionary zeal, especially towards the most needy areas of the one body of the Mexican Church. To rediscover that the Church is mission is fundamental for her future, because only the 'enthusiasm and confident admiration' of evangelisers has the power to attract. I ask you, therefore, to take great care in forming and preparing the lay-faithful, overcoming all forms of clericalism and involving them actively in the mission of the Church, above all making the Gospel of Christ present in the world by personal witness.

Of great benefit to the Mexican people will be the unifying witness of the Christian synthesis and the shared vision of the identity and future of its people. In this sense, it is important for the Pontifical University of Mexico to be increasingly involved in the efforts of the Church to ensure a universal perspective; for without this, reason, which tends to compartmentalise, will renounce its highest ideal of seeking the truth.

The mission is vast, and to carry it forward requires multiple paths. I strongly reiterate my appeal to you to preserve the communion and unity that exist among you. This is essential brothers. These words are not in my text but come spontaneously: If you must argue, argue; if you have to say things, say them; but say them as men, face to face, and as men of God who then go to pray together and discern together. And if you have gone too far, then ask for forgiveness, but always maintain the unity of the episcopal body: communion and unity among yourselves. Communion is the essential form of the Church, and the unity of her Pastors offers proof of its truth. Mexico and its vast, multifaceted Church, stand in need of bishops who are servants and custodians of that unity built on the word of God, nourished by his Body and guided by his Spirit who is the life-giving breath of the Church.

We do not need 'princes', but rather a community of the Lord’s witnesses. Christ is the only light; He is the wellspring of living water; from His breath comes forth the Spirit, Who fills the sails of the ecclesial barque. In the glorified Christ, whom the people of this country love to honour as King, may you together kindle the light and be filled by his presence which is never extinguished; breathe deeply the wholesome air of His Spirit. It falls to you to sow Christ in this land, to keep alive His humble light which enlightens without causing confusion, to ensure that in his living waters the thirst of your people is quenched; to set the sails so that the Spirit’s breeze may fill them, never allowing the barque of the Church in Mexico to run aground.

Remember: the Bride, the Bride of each of you, the Mother Church, knows that the beloved Pastor will be found only where there are verdant pastures and crystal clear streams. She does not trust those companions of the Bridegroom who, sometimes out of laziness or inability, lead the sheep through arid lands and areas strewn with rocks. Woe to us pastors, companions of the Supreme Pastor, if we allow His Bride to wander because we have set up tents where the Bridegroom cannot be found!

Allow me a final word to convey the appreciation of the Pope for everything you are doing to confront the challenge of our age: migration. There are millions of sons and daughters of the Church who today live in the diaspora or who are in transit, journeying to the north in search of new opportunities. Many of them have left behind their roots in order to brave the future, even in clandestine conditions which involve so many risks; they do this to seek the 'green light' which they regard as hope. So many families are separated; and integration into a supposedly “promised land” is not always as easy as some believe.

Brothers, may your hearts be capable of following these men and women and reaching them beyond the borders. Strengthen the communion with your brothers of the North American episcopate, so that the maternal presence of the Church can keep alive the roots of the faith, the faith of that people, and the motivation for their hope and the power of their charity. May it never happen to them, that, hanging up their lyres, their joys become dampened, they forget Jerusalem and are exiled from themselves. I ask you to witness together that the Church is the custodian of a unifying vision of humanity and that she cannot consent to being reduced to a mere human 'resource'.

Your efforts will not be in vain when your dioceses show care by pouring balm on the injured feet of those who walk through your territories, sharing with them the resources collected through the sacrifices of many; the divine Samaritan in the end will enrich the person who is not indifferent to him as he lies on the side of the road.

Dear brothers, the Pope is sure that Mexico and its Church will make it in time to that rendezvous with themselves, with history and with God. Perhaps some stone on the way may slow their pace and the struggle of the journey may call for rest, but nothing will make them lose sight of the destination. For how can someone arrive late when it is their mother who is waiting? Who is unable to hear within themselves that voice, ‘am I not here, I who am your Mother’? Thank you".

Mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe: God awakens hope in the rejected

Vatican City, 14 February 2016 (VIS) – Yesterday the Pope concluded his first full day in Mexico by celebrating Holy Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the principal sanctuary in Mexico and the largest Marian shrine in the world, which receives more than twenty million pilgrims each year. According to tradition, it arose following the five apparitions of the Virgin – between 9 and 12 December 1531 – to the Indian Juan Diego who, with his uncle Juan Bernardino, was one of the first native converts to Christianity in 1521. The name "Guadalupe" is derived from the Indian word Coatlaxopeuh (Conquerer of the snake). The Virgin of Guadalupe was declared Patroness of Mexico in 1737, Patron and Empress of the Americas in 1910, and of the Philippines in 1935. For this reason at the Basilica the 24 flags of the American countries and the Philippines are raised.

In the sanctuary the miraculous venerated image of the Virgin is visible on the "tilma", a cactus-fibre cloak of Juan Diego, whose symbolism is highly significant. Light and flames radiate from the womb of Mary: she is the mother of the Sun Child. The features of the face of the Virgin are neither Spanish nor Indian, but mixed. Her feet rest on the moon and her left leg, flexed, indicates the way (pilgrimage) and the dance (feast in pre-Columbian cultures). Her pink gown is decorated with strange overlapping flowers; one of the smallest with four petals is located in her womb representing for indigenous cultures the divine presence, the origin of life. She also carries a pendant, a cross, which in Mesoamerican indigenous cultures had the same meaning as the flower: fullness and immortality, which for Christians is translated into sign of redemption. Her blue-green mantel is the colour of jade and turquoise, symbols of royalty and virginity; it is full of stars whose distribution is not accidental: it is the map of the sky in winter 1521, year of the Marian apparitions.

The present-day Basilica, known as the "New Basilica of St. Mary of Guadalupe"; which houses the image and has space for twelve thousand people inside and another thirty thousand on the esplanade, was inaugurated on 12 October 1976 and built to substitute the first temple dating from the seventeenth century, which was collapsing under its own weight. The ancient basilica, which underwent full restoration, is dedicated to Christ the King. The shrine complex also includes the Chapel of the Roses, where the Virgin appeared for the first time to Juan Diego and where there issued forth the roses that the Indian took to the archbishop Juan de Zumarraga as a sign of the apparition, and the Chapel of the Well, erected above a spring of healing water.

The Pope travelled by popemobile from the Mexican capital to the Hill of Tepeyac where the shrine is located, greeted by tens of thousands of faithful along the way. He arrived at the old Basilica at 4.45 p.m. local time (11.45 p.m. in Rome), and from there proceeded t the new Basilica where he celebrated Holy Mass, attended by more than 35,000 people.

In his homily, commenting on the Gospel of the Visitation, he recalled how Mary went to meet her cousin Elizabeth, "without delay, without doubts, without lessening her pace", emphasising that her encounter with the angel did not hold her back since she did not consider herself privileged, nor did it cause her to neglect those around her. "On the contrary, it renewed and inspired an attitude for which Mary is, and always, will be known: she is the woman who says 'yes', a 'yes' of surrender to God and, at the same time, a 'yes' of surrender to her brothers and sisters. This is the 'yes' which prompted her to give the best of herself, going forth to meet the others".

"Listening to this Gospel passage in this place has a special significance. Mary, the woman who gave her 'yes', wished also to come to the inhabitants of these American lands in the person of the Indian Saint Juan Diego. Just as she went along the paths of Judea and Galilee, in the same way she walked through Tepeyac, wearing the indigenous garb and using their language so as to serve this great nation. Just as she accompanied Elizabeth in her pregnancy, so too she has and continues to accompany the development of this blessed Mexican land. Just as she made herself present to little Juan, so too she continues to reveal herself to all of us, especially to those who feel, like him, 'worthless'. This specific choice, we might call it preferential, was not against anyone but rather in favour of everyone. The little Indian Juan who called himself a 'leather strap, a back frame, a tail, a wing, oppressed by another’s burden' became 'the ambassador, most worthy of trust'".

"On that morning in December 1531, the first miracle occurred which would then be the living memory of all this Shrine protects. On that morning, at that meeting, God awakened the hope of His son Juan, and the hope of a People. On that morning, God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of those displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands. On that morning, God came close and still comes close to the suffering but resilient hearts of so many mothers, fathers, grandparents who have seen their children leaving, becoming lost or even being taken by criminals".

"On that morning, Juancito experienced in his own life what hope is, what the mercy of God is. He was chosen to oversee, care for, protect and promote the building of this Shrine. On many occasions he said to Our Lady that he was not the right person; on the contrary, if she wished the work to progress, she should choose others, since he was not learned or literate and did not belong to the group who could make it a reality. Mary, who was persistent – with that persistence born from the Father’s merciful heart – said to him: he would be her ambassador. In this way, she managed to awaken something he did not know how to express, a veritable banner of love and justice: no one could be left out in the building of that other shrine, the shrine of life, the shrine of our communities, our societies and our cultures. We are all necessary, especially those who normally do not count because they are not 'up to the task' or because 'they do not have the necessary funds' to build all these things. God’s Shrine is the life of His children, of everyone in any condition, especially of young people without a future who are exposed to endless painful and risky situations, and the elderly who are unacknowledged, forgotten and out of sight. The Shrine of God is our families in need only of the essentials to develop and progress. The Shrine of God is the faces of the many people we encounter each day".

"Visiting this Shrine, the same things that happened to Juan Diego can also happen to us. Look at the Blessed Mother from within our own sufferings, our own fear, hopelessness, sadness, and say to her, 'What can I offer since I am not learned?'. We look to our Mother with eyes that express out thoughts: there are so many situations which leave us powerless, which make us feel that there is no room for hope, for change, for transformation".

"And so, I think that some silence may do us good today as we pause to look upon her and repeat to her the words of that other loving son:

Simply looking at you, O Mother,
to have eyes only for you,
looking upon you without saying anything,
telling you everything, wordlessly and reverently.

Do not perturb the air before you;
only cradle my stolen solitude
in your loving Motherly eyes,
in the nest of your clear ground.

Hours tumble by,
and with much commotion,
the wastage of life and death
sinks its teeth into foolish men.

Having eyes for you, O Mother,
simply contemplating you
with a heart quietened in your tenderness
that silence of yours, chaste as the lilies.

"And in the silence, and in looking at her, we will hear anew what she says to us once more, 'What, my most precious little one, saddens your heart?'. 'Yet am I not here with you, who have the honour of being your mother?'.

"Mary tells us that she has 'the honour' of being our mother, assuring us that those who suffer do not weep in vain. These ones are a silent prayer rising to heaven, always finding a place in Mary’s mantle. In her and with her, God has made Himself our brother and companion along the journey; He carries our crosses with us so as not to leave us overwhelmed by our sufferings".

"Am I not your mother? Am I not here? Do not let trials and pains overwhelm you, she tells us. Today, she sends us out anew; as she did Juanito, today, she comes to tell us again: be my ambassador, the one I send to build many new shrines, accompany many lives, wipe away many tears. Simply be my ambassador by walking along the paths of your neighbourhood, of your community, of your parish; we can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us. Be my ambassador, she says to us, giving food to the hungry, drink to those who thirst, a refuge to those in need, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Come to the aid of those in prison, do not leave them alone, forgive whoever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all beseech and pray to God. Am I not your mother? Am I not here with you? Mary says this to us again. Go and build my shrine, help me to lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, who are your brothers and sisters".

Following Mass, the Pope offered to Our Lady of Guadalupe a gold and silver tiara and, as he had previously requested, spent around twenty minutes alone in the chapel, praying and contemplating the image of the Guadalupana.

Copyright © VIS - Vatican Information Service