VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis praised Our Lady of Guadalupe on Friday as “a great missionary” who brought the faith to Latin America, as he called on Christians to see her prayers as an introduction to the beatitudes and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Through her intercession, the Christian faith has become the richest treasure of the soul of the Latin-American people, whose precious pearl is Jesus Christ: a heritage which is transmitted and manifested up to today in the baptism of multitudes of people, in the faith, hope and charity of many, in the preciousness of popular piety and in the ‘ethos’ of people, which is shown in the consciousness of the dignity of the human person, in the passion for justice, in solidarity with the poor and suffering and in hoping, sometimes against hope.”
“Because of this, we here, today, can continue praising God for the marvels he has worked in the lives of the Latin-American people,” the Pope said in his homily at a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 12.
The feast day marks the apparition of the Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego in the 16th century. Juan Diego was a recently baptized indigenous Mexican who, on his way to Mass on Dec. 9, 1531, encountered a woman dressed in indigenous regal attire. The radiant woman, who spoke the native Aztec dialect, announced herself as the “ever-perfect holy Mary, who has the honor to be the mother of the true God.”
In the course of several visitations, she asked Juan Diego to build a church dedicated to Christ on the site of a former pagan temple and promised to cure his dying uncle.
As a sign for the bishop, she told Juan Diego to find roses and other flowers on the hill, though it was the middle of winter. St. Juan Diego gathered the flowers, and Mary placed them into his cloak, known as a tilma, and told him not to unwrap it until he reached the bishop.
When Juan Diego unwrapped the tilma before the bishop, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe had been miraculously imprinted upon it.
Pope Francis, who is the first pope from the New World, reflected on the apparition.
“The Holy Mother of God not only visited these people, but wanted to stay with them,” he said. “She mysteriously imprinted her holy face on the tilma of her messenger, so that we might keep in mind the symbol of the covenant of Mary with these people.”
Pope Francis said the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe was like “a great sign” that assumed in herself “the cultural and religious symbolism of the indigenous.”
He reflected on the Virgin Mary’s impact in Mexico, where her apparition helped inspire tens of thousands of people to convert to Christianity.
“Many jumped out of joy and hope at her visit and at the gift of her Son,” the Pope continued. He described Mary as “the most perfect disciple of the Lord,” who also became the “great missionary who brings the Gospel to our America.”
The Pope described Latin America as “the continent of hope” and voiced expectations that the region will provide “new models of development that combine Christian tradition and civil progress, justice and equality with reconciliation; scientific and technological development with human wisdom; and fruitful suffering with hopeful joy.”
“It is only possible to safeguard this hope with large doses of truth and love, which are the foundations of all reality [and] revolutionary engines of authentic new life,” continued the Pope.
Pope Francis also reflected on Mary’s words in the Magnificat.
“In the wonders that the Lord has done through Mary, she recognizes her Son’s style and way of acting in the history of salvation. Disrupting worldly judgment, destroying ideologies of power, wealth, success at all costs, denouncing self-reliance, pride and secularized messianic systems which turn away from God, the Marian hymn confesses that God is happy to subvert worldly ideologies and hierarchies.”
For Pope Francis, the Magnificat is the prayer that “introduces us to the beatitudes, the primordial synthesis of the Gospel message.”
The Pope asked “that the future of Latin America be forged by the poor and those who suffer, by the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, by the compassionate, the pure of heart, by those who work for peace and those persecuted in the name of Christ, ‘for theirs is the kingdom of God.’”
He closed his homily with exhortations to prayer, penitence and faith.
“Begging pardon and trusting in his mercy, we celebrate the sacrifice and paschal victory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the Pope said. “He is the only Lord, the ‘liberator’ of all our bondages and miseries arising from sin. He calls us to live the true life, a more human life, to live together as children and brothers, now that the doors to the ‘new heavens and new earth’ are open.”
“We beg the Holy Virgin Mary, in her Guadalupan dedication — as the Mother of God, the Queen, My Lady, my little girl, my little one, as she was called by St. Juan Diego, and all loving names we give to her in popular piety — that she continue to accompany, assist and protect our people.”