Church leaders at a conference in Mexico City emphasized unity and Christ-centered witness, as they discussed Our Lady of Guadalupe's ongoing call to evangelize the Americas.

"Our Lady of Guadalupe is the mother of the Mexicans, but she is also the mother of everyone who draws near to her," Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to Mexico, said Nov. 16.

When Our Lady appeared, she changed the future of the people, "giving them new hope" and planting the seed of a new race, he explained.

And since that time, "she has not stopped calling." Rather, she continues to reach out as a mother to comfort those who have suffered, bringing a "new heart" to Mexico and the New World.

Our Mother shows us that the Resurrection is the path of freedom and asks us to share this message with others, Archbishop Pierre continued. Mary is "the perfect missionary" because she was a true disciple, and she should be our example in evangelizing.

The archbishop spoke to hundreds of Church and lay leaders from across the Americas in the opening session at a conference entitled "Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization on the American Continent."

Building upon a similar event in Rome last year and drawing from Bl. John Paul II's apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, the conference seeks to examine the Church's mission and role throughout the Americas.

Taking place at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City Nov. 16-19, the gathering is sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Knights of Columbus, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Higher Institute of Guadalupan Studies.

The event began with a procession bringing an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe into the gathering, preceded by flags representing the nations of those in attendance.
Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Archbishop of Mexico City welcomed participants, reminding them that as they gathered in "the immense joy of being the family of God," they were given the task of working to build a civilization of God.

Msgr. Enrique Glennie, rector of the basilica, entrusted the event to Our Lady of Guadalupe and offered prayers for the people of the Philippines whose lives have been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, noting that Our Lady is their mother as well.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, offered reflections on the gathering in light of Pope Francis, the first Pope from the New World.

Pope Francis continuously calls us to look at our vocation as Christians, which involves a life of witness, the cardinal said. We must go out to those who have abandoned the Church, "those who have been persuaded by other proposals."

"Maybe the Church appears too fragile to them, maybe too far from their needs," he reflected, adding that perhaps the Church seemed too cold, irrelevant or self-referential, and so they left.

But the Second Vatican Council makes it clear that we are called to witness, Cardinal Ouellet continued. If we are to be successful in reaching out to fallen-away Catholics through a New Evangelization, he said, such efforts must arise from "the marvel of the encounter with Christ."

He noted how frequently Pope Francis uses the verb "to go out," calling the faithful to go out to the poor, lonely, isolated and indifferent: "to where people's life and family are at stake."

The cardinal encouraged the Church in the Americas to be united as one in seeking to evangelize. Despite different challenges faced and different customs, languages and traditions, he said, "we must recognize ourselves here and now as Ecclesia in America."

Through open dialogue and exchange, he said, Church leaders in various American countries can enrich each other in the struggle to address common problems.

These problems are numerous, he observed, pointing to aggressions against life and the family, challenges to peace and justice, demands for integral human development, poverty and violence, natural disasters, drug trafficking, education deficits and rising immigration.

But although these challenges are immense, Cardinal Ouellet said, we can draw strength from Our Lady of Guadalupe, "the foundation of the New World."

"Let us keep a fixed eye on our mother," he encouraged, so that we may be disciples for her sake.

"She waits for us and she is with us."