The religious mentality at the time viewed sterility "as a divine punishment" for a personal sin or the sin of one's spouse, he said, noting that it was "a sign of shame she carried in her own flesh because she considers herself guilty of a sin that she did not commit or because she felt like nothing since she was not able to live up to what was expected of her."
This type of sterility, the Pope said, is one "that goes deep and ends up paralyzing all life," and which takes on "the many names and forms of every time a person feels in their flesh the shame of being stigmatized or feeling like nothing," much like Juan Diego.
However, after meeting Mary, Elizabeth becomes fertile and filled with wonder, he said. She is the first one to recognize her cousin as the Mother of God, and she also experiences in her own flesh the fulfillment of God's word, because she now carries the "precursor to salvation."
In Elizabeth, Francis said, we understand that "God's dream is neither sterility nor to stigmatize or shame his children," but is rather "to bring forth in them and from them a song of blessing."
The same goes for Juan Diego, he said, noting that it was precisely he, and no one else, that carried the image of the Virgin in his tilma: "the Virgin of brown skin and a 'mestizo' face," he said, referring to the fact that she was of a mixed indigenous race. The term "mestizo" was used at the time to describe the children born to Spanish and Aztec parents.
By appearing this way, Our Lady, he said, is a mother who is capable of taking on the various traits of her children "in order to make them feel part of her blessing."
In thinking about the themes of sterility and fertility or fruitfulness, Francis said we can also relate these to the richness of the cultural diversity in Latin American and the Caribbean.
This diversity, he said, is "a sign of the great richness that we are invited not only to cultivate, but, especially in our time, to courageously defend from all attempts to homogenize which end up imposing – under attractive slogans – a singular way of thinking, of being, of feeling, of living."
In the end, these efforts at uniformity end up "making either invalid or sterile everything inherited from our elders." They make people, and especially the youth, "feel like nothing because they belong to this or that culture."
Pope Francis said the diversity and fruitfulness of Latin America makes it a requirement "to defend our peoples from an ideological colonization" which seeks to cancel out what makes these cultures rich and unique, "be they indigenous, African-American, mestizo, peasants or suburban."
On the contrary, everyone is called to be like Elizabeth and Juan Diego, feeling that they are "the bearer of a promise, of a hope," but as one people, without canceling out the features of one or another.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
The Pope closed his homily encouraging faithful to echo the song of Elizabeth, and, like so many who never tire of repeating it, say together: "blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus."