Local News and Stories

A pilgrimage to Mexico: In the footsteps of the martyrs

By Peggy Mattson – Diocese of Juneau Archivist

Over 20 million tourists and pilgrims visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year, and 3 million of those visits occur on December 12, her feast day. I joined in those numbers on November 6 as part of a nine-day pilgrimage traveling from Guadalajara to Mexico City, Mexico, that was titled, In the Footsteps of the Martyrs. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Marian shrine in the world, and the second most visited basilica after St. Peter’s in Rome.

What is the attraction? Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of Mexico and Mexico City, of the Americas, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. She is also the patroness of the unborn, the Pro-life movement, the New Evangelization, and the Knights of Columbus. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a symbol of Mexican identity. She is a symbol of hope, justice, and peace. She is the mother of God and mother of the Church. She is the mother of the people of Mexico, and she is our mother.

This image of Our Lady defies scientific explanation is still beautiful and vibrant after 500 years. You can only view the image, you can’t touch it. As you ride a moving walkway that travels under the image encased in glass up high on the wall in the back of the sanctuary of the basilica, you are embraced in the gaze of La Morenita, the little brown lady.

You hear the words she spoke to Juan Diego so long ago also spoken to you, “Am I not here, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms?”

The hymn to the Song of Our Lady of Guadalupe ran through my mind as well, “Maria, O most merciful Mother, Gentle virgin with the name Guadalupe. On a mountain, we find roses in winter. All the world has been touched by your love.”

December 12 marks the date of the fourth of five apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill. In 1531, the gift of her image on Juan Diego’s tilma was given to the Bishop as proof of the visits and her request to build a church. There are pages of miracles, healings, and interventions attributed to her. Pope John Paul II visited the basilica four times, including the beatification of Juan Diego in 2002.

Pope Francis visited in 2016. He stated in his homily in Mexico City, “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 Juancito, 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 neighborhood, 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 whomever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all beseech and pray to God. And in the silence tell him what is in our heart.
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.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is also the patroness of the Diocese of Sacramento, California. Our tour leader, Msgr. James Murphy, a priest from the Diocese of Sacramento, wrote a book, Saints and Sinners of the Cristero War, that we read and discussed on our journey. During our pilgrimage, we reflected on the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico during the Cristero War (1926-1929). Ninety Catholic priests were killed during this war including St. Toribio Romo and Blessed Fr. Miguel Pro, S.J. (St. Toribio is included in a mosaic of the Saints of the Americas in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and over a hundred of his relatives live in the Sacramento area.)

Our Friday, November 1, liturgy for All Saints Day was in the chapel commemorating the place where St. Toribio Romo was martyred.
Our Saturday, November 2, liturgy for All Souls Day was in the church where St. Toribio Romo is buried. The original small church where he was baptized is close by.

Our Sunday, November 3, liturgy for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, was in the center of Mexico at the statue of Cristo Rey.

We had Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a beautiful mosaic of the apparitions. The back of the chapel had a view of the valley below the mountain-Cerro del Cubilete.

Our Tuesday, November 5, liturgy was in Holy Family church where Blessed Miguel Pro is buried. There is also a small museum close by with memorabilia and documentation of the Cristero War and his martyrdom.
Our Mass on Wednesday, November 6 was in the side chapel 7 of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and we celebrated the liturgy from Mary, Mother of the Church. After communion Monsignor prayed, “Having received the pledge of redemption and of life we humbly pray, O Lord, that with the Blessed Virgin’s motherly help your Church may teach all nations by proclaiming the Gospel and, thanks to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, may fill the whole earth.” November 6, also marked the 33rd anniversary of my mother’s death, making it memorable for me.

As we journey through this Advent, may we walk with Our Lady of Guadalupe, the God-Bearer, and share her message of hope and announce the good news of salvation.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas and Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us!