For Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe began before he was even born. As he explained to CNA on Dec. 10, his mother made a pilgrimage with his father to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe while she was pregnant with him.
“When I was in the womb of my mother, my father and my mother went on a pilgrimage to Mexico City,” about 300 miles from his birthplace in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. “They took me there, and they prayed for me.”
“They asked Mary to help raise me as a good kid, and a good Catholic,” the future archbishop recalled. He and his 14 siblings later made “many, many pilgrimages” to the shrine. Like many Mexican and other Latino Catholics, Archbishop Garcia-Siller remembers the Guadalupe image as a constant part of his home life, closely associated with the daily family Rosary and novena prayers for particular needs.
“My faith in Jesus Christ, and in the Church, has a lot to do with her,” he reflected.
Many Latino Catholics celebrating their faith and culture on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe would agree with his statement. His archdiocese's Cathedral of San Fernando, the oldest active cathedral in the U.S., has been a center for devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe for almost 300 years. And while the city has variously belonged to four different nations during that time, devotion to her has never changed.
“The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is very festive,” he explained. “In the midst of tragic situations that people go through, (celebrating) Our Lady is an occasion to be festive– because of the hope that she brings.”
They'll celebrate that hope at Mass, and with processions and prayers– but also by singing and dancing, eating and drinking, wearing costumes or watching plays in which children re-enact the story of Juan Diego. Even those who may not grasp or acknowledge it as a holy day, can celebrate it as a holiday– and perhaps, Archbishop Garcia-Siller speculated, they may hear what the image wordlessly conveys.
At San Fernando Cathedral, mariachi musicians and other devotees will gather “to serenade Our Lady for an hour,” expressing their love in a variety of songs many know by heart. Some are traditional hymns of the Church– but “also, there are songs that are popular,” expressing childlike or chivalrous affection toward “a mother who loves her children.”
For Catholics of other backgrounds, the experience might be a foreign one, at least on the surface. But Archbishop Garcia-Siller noted that Our Lady of Guadalupe, as a universal mother, can draw together communities that may not understand their own interconnections.
“Her presence, her message, is for all those who follow Jesus, who want to have a relationship with him,” he said.