PROVIDENCE — Much like she did almost 500 years ago when she first appeared to St. Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe continues her mission to draw people close to her son, Jesus Christ.
“She is God’s sacred instrument who prepares us for Christ,” Father Francisco Anzoategui, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, said during his homily at the Dec. 12 Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
Speaking in Spanish to a standing-room-only crowd at the cathedral, Father Anzoategui reflected on the Gospel passage of the Visitation, connecting that joyful mystery to the Mother of God’s appearance in 1531 to a poor, humble indigenous peasant known to history as St. Juan Diego.
According to official histories, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared four times to St. Juan Diego in December 1531. The apparitions took place at the Hill of Tepeyac, which would become Villa de Guadalupe, in a suburb of Mexico City.
Speaking to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language — the language of the Aztec empire — it is said the Blessed Mother asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. To confirm Juan Diego’s story, the Blessed Mother had him bring roses from Tepeyac — which normally would not bloom in December — to the bishop.
When Juan Diego unfurled his tilma, the roses fell and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe — having the appearance of a Mestiza woman — miraculously appeared on the cloak.
“I’m really devoted to the Virgin Mary, to the Virgen de Guadalupe,” said Zully Montufar, 28, who attended the special Mass where parents dressed infants as Juan Diego and young people wore folkloric Mexican costumes.
The Mass, which was celebrated in English and Spanish, also featured mariachi-style music.
“It was amazing. The music was really beautiful,” said Angie Bohanna, a Massachusetts resident who accompanied one of the musicians.
“I love it. I come to this Mass every year,” said Montufar, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. Montufar said she often visits her family’s ancestral country to visit shrines there in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City — where the tilma is on display — is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. In December 2009, more than six million pilgrims visited the shrine to commemorate the anniversary of the apparition.
Leidy Almonce, a Providence resident who is originally from the Dominican Republic, said she also has a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who was bestowed the title of “Empress of the Americas” by Pope Pius XII.
“We have a lot of people who have devotion to her,” said Almonce, who also attended the special Mass on Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day.
Numerous parishes are named after Our Lady of Guadalupe, and replicas of St. Juan Diego’s tilma can be found in thousands of churches throughout the world. A life-size replica of the image greeted the faithful who went to the Providence cathedral on Dec. 12.
“This is an important feast day for you, for all of us and for the entire Church,” said Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who blessed the image along with smaller replicas, statues and other sacramentals belonging to the faithful.
Bishop Tobin added that it was “fitting” to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe during the season of Advent, as the Church prepares for the coming of Jesus.
“That’s because Mary always leads us to her son, Jesus,” the bishop said. “If we stay close to Mary, we will be close to Jesus. Mary teaches us to welcome the word of God, to do God’s will and to have faith and trust. And we can have faith and trust because Jesus is Emmanuel, the God who is always with us.”