FAIRFAX, Va.—In 1531, the Blessed Mother's appearance at Guadalupe heralded the conversion of some 9 million Mexican Indians to Christianity and the end of the human sacrifices — usually of children — that had been practiced in the Aztec religion.

At the end of the 20th century, many Catholics see a renewal of emphasis on Our Lady of Guadalupe, as a unifier of Christians in the Americas and a healer of the wounds of abortion.

Pope John Paul II, in his January post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America (The Church in America), normalized the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the Americas.

“With the passage of time,” he wrote, “pastors and faithful alike have grown increasingly conscious of the role of the Virgin Mary in the evangelization of America. In the prayer composed for the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, Holy Mary of Guadalupe is invoked as ‘Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization.’

“In view of this, I welcome with joy the proposal of the Synod Fathers that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer of America, be celebrated throughout the continent on Dec. 12. It is my heart-felt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples, will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church, so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life” (No. 11).

Many pro-life activists also refer to the image as Our Lady of Life. They see clear pro-life symbolism in the Guadalupe image, which shows Mary pregnant.

Promotion of devotion to the image received a boost earlier this year, when Redemptorist Father Pablo Straub told Mother Angelica on the Eternal Word Television Network about a private revelation: that Mary had said that if her Guadalupe image were brought to every abortion clinic in the United States, it would bring an end to abortion here.

Two home viewers who took a special interest in that show were Lorrie Anderberg and Deanna Aikman of Michigan. On July 1, the two started the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Ann Arbor.

Using Internet, they determined that there are about 1,000 places in the United States that do abortions. So they, along with a friend, Dr. Cathy Dowling, ordered 1,000 2_-foot-by-4-foot cloth banners with reproductions of the Guadalupe image.

They are offering the banners free to anyone who will take them to abortion clinics and pray, especially on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. By early December they had received responses from about 40 Catholic dioceses.

“We're just the most unlikely people who would ever be doing this, so it has real potential,” Anderberg said.

The Image

Another boost for the Guadalupe image came in June 1991, when the U.S. bishops received from Mexico's bishops a life-size photograph of the 4-foot-by-6-foot image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That's when Dan Lynch casually offered to handle scheduling for the photo's trips.

Lynch, 57, now a retired lawyer and part-time probate judge in northern Vermont, thought he could use his law office and some free time to help out.

Since then, the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been on the go almost nonstop. “It just took over my life, he said.

Though headquartered in East Fairfield, the image is rarely there. It has gone throughout the United States and Europe, including Russia, and also to Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Canada and Mexico.

And wherever it goes, it's a hit. “The priests are always amazed,” Lynch said. “They say, ‘Oh, you'll be lucky to get 50 people there.’ [Yet] the churches are always packed. The confession lines are unbelievable.”

Though Lynch does not usually accompany the photo on its journeys, he collects stories about it.

In Wichita, Kan., in the early 1990s, witnesses claimed they saw rose petals flake off the image. In Louisville, Ky., in 1992 a little girl was cured of a rare lung disease after the image was taken into her hospital room, Lynch said.

The photographic image has been taken to abortion clinics in more than 20 cities, Lynch said, and several of those clinics subsequently closed.

Lynch contended that he has seen the image cry tears of oil. He said that he accompanied the photo to Moscow in 1992, where he and several companions entered a gate into Red Square without permission and proclaimed Mary the queen of Russia.

When Lynch landed in China with the photograph in 1994, he recalled, a female Chinese customs agent pointed at the Our Lady of Guadalupe T-shirt he was wearing and said, “Oh Maria, Maria!” She then produced a Miraculous Medal.

The Doctor of Tepeyac

Back in the United States, Dr. John Bruchalski calls himself an example of Our Lady of Guadalupe's influence.

In 1987, the year he would graduate from medical school at the University of South Alabama, Bruchalski visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Tepeyac hill in Mexico City with a friend.

Bruchalski was then in a medical residency program and about to enter an obstetrics-gynecology practice where he would use what have become the tools of the trade: contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion.

During one of the Masses in the basilica, he recalled, “I heard a voice inside my head saying, ‘Why are you hurting me?’”

The prick of conscience, as he called it, didn't take immediately, and for a while he continued prescribing oral contraceptives and performing abortions.

Eventually, he stopped doing abortions, but continued sterilizing and prescribing oral contraceptives. He then volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. “And it was there that I saw the connection between the contraceptive mentality and the abortion mentality,” he acknowledged.

After a visit to Medjugorje in Bosnia in January 1990, he gave up helping women contracept.

In 1994, he opened the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., which specializes in problem pregnancies. The clinic does not provide or refer patients to others for abortion or artificial contraception, and turns no women away for lack of money.

“Tepeyac is in the name because we have to remind ourselves why we do this,” Bruchalski said.

Business is booming. The clinic, which has on display images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, delivers 40 babies a month, Bruchalski said. In 1997, another doctor joined the practice, and Bruchalski is looking to add two more.

Bruchalski rattled off a close paraphrase of the words of Mary at Guadalupe that are recited at the center every day:

Listen to me my son:

Do not worry about any illness, vexation, anxiety, or pain.

Am I not here who am your Mother?

Am I not your fountain of life?

Are you not in the fold of my arms or under my mantle?

Are you not my responsibility? Is there anything else you need?

Bruchalski mused, “She's the one [who] said it — ‘Is there anything else you need?’ I didn't. So I'm taking her up on her offer.”

Matt McDonald writes from Mashpee, Massachusetts.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Ann Arbor, Mich., can be reached at (734) 930-7481.