“Campesino Ministry: Our Lady of Guadalupe and Justice” – by Fr. Mike McAndrew
On December 12, 2011, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Hispanic/Latino Bishops sent a letter to immigrants in the United States. They began, “We the undersigned Hispanic/Latino Bishops of the United States wish to let those of you who lack proper authorization to live and work in our country know that you are not alone, or forgotten.” The message coincides with the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The proclamation that the Church walks in solidarity with people of migration is the aspiration of the Church.
This solidarity of the Church with people of migration is an uncomfortable position for many. The bishops continued: “The economic crisis has had an impact on the entire U.S. community. Regretfully, some in reaction to this environment of uncertainty show disdain for immigrants and even blame them for the crisis. We will not find a solution to our problems by sowing hatred. We will find the solution by sowing a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers —immigrants and citizens—who live together in the United States.”
The linking of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and concern for the dignity and well being of the poor is consistent with the Church’s understanding of the role of St. Juan Diego and the Virgin in the conversion of Mexico. The Apparitions of the Virgin were more than simply a faith event. The story told in the Nican Mopohua, the original account of the events set the stage for celebrating not only the conversion of the people of Mexico, but set the stage for lifting up the dignity of the indigenous people.
The Canonization of St. Juan Diego
Pope John Paul II spoke at the Canonization of St. Juan Diego of the Guadalupe event being a great sign to the Church of faith arising from conditions of great hardship and injustice. The canonization proclaimed the love of God for the indigenous peoples of the world. As the story of the Nican Mopohua elevated the dignity of Juan Diego, his canonization called the Church to recognize the gift of indigenous faith. Here are a few excerpts from the homily at the canonization of St. Juan Diego.
“In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God. Thus he facilitated the fruitful meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for the new Mexican identity, closely united to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“The Guadalupe Event”, as the Mexican Episcopate has pointed out, “meant the beginning of evangelization with a vitality that surpassed all expectations. Christ’s message, through his Mother, took up the central elements of the indigenous culture, purified them and gave them the definitive sense of salvation” (14 May 2002, No. 8). Consequently Guadalupe and Juan Diego have a deep ecclesial and missionary meaning and are a model of perfectly inculturated evangelization.
The noble task of building a better Mexico, with greater justice and solidarity, demands the cooperation of all. In particular, it is necessary today to support the indigenous peoples in their legitimate aspirations, respecting and defending the authentic values of each ethnic group. Mexico needs its indigenous peoples and these peoples need Mexico!
The canonization of St. Juan Diego was a great celebration for the people of Mexico, but it was significant that the Holy Father used this time to address concerns for the treatment of indigenous peoples. While the message had particular context for Mexico, the message of justice is at the center of all Catholic action.
Our conflicted response
The letter of the Bishops carries a sadness at conditions seen in society and that “many of our Catholic brothers and sisters have not supported petitions for changes in the immigration law that will protect your basic rights while you contribute your hard work to our country.” The Bishops remind us that almost all of us “we and our ancestors…come from other lands.” The Bishops urge the immigrant “not to despair. Keep faith in Jesus the migrant who continues to walk beside you.”
Wars, natural disasters and economic crisis have caused more people to migrate from nation to nation than at any time in world history. The issues of migration are extremely complex. In the United States most attention is placed on migration from south of our border, but compassion and faith are necessary to develop appropriate response. We in the Church must welcome the migrant as receiving Jesus Christ.
The Hispanic/Latino Bishops call on people of faith during our celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to see the face of Jesus in the migrant. May this letter be a consolation to the migrant and an invitation to all of our communities to open ourselves to see Jesus in the migrant.
Fr. Michael McAndrew, C.SS.R.
Director for Campesino Ministry
Diocese of Fresno