Today (Dec. 12) is the Feast of the Virgen de Guadalupe, Patroness of México and the Americas.
Rather than provide an in-depth analysis of her story or the symbolism of her image on St. Juan Diego’s tilma (thought there are a few links below to start your further reading that I grabbed real quickly for you), I want to share some thoughts on her significance, especially for disability communities.
In 1531, when Our Lady appeared on Tepeyac, the indigenous people had only recently been devastated by the conquest of Spain and were not treated with equal dignity or status by the Spanish. So when the Virgin appear to St. Juan Diego, it was a powerful statement to both the indigenous and Spanish people that communicated an equality of dignity of the indigenous people. Not only that, but the Virgin appeared with dark skin, spoke to Juan Diego in his indigenous language (Náhuatl), and appeared with imagery that spoke to the culture of the indigenous people and symbolism that tied into Christianity.
It’s incredibly obvious and moving to see why Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparition to St. Juan Diego is so meaningful for the indigenous at the time, Mexicans still today, and all those who are powerless and marginalized.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is an example of interculturality – she comes in the native culture and tongue with a message of hope and belonging that brought the people of that culture to Christianity. Throughout the centuries, she serves as a bridge between people of different cultures – reminding the people who are marginalized that they are part of the Body of Christ, that she is their Mother as well.
Our Lady of Guadalupe also points the eyes, minds, and hearts, of those in the mainstream, not in the margins, towards our brothers and sisters we have not fully recognized among us as one of us in their unique culture. She serves as an awakening to those in the mainstream, in power, those who oppress either from a lack of awareness or sadly, those who marginalize willfully, of the universality of our shared spiritual family.
I had the privilege of going to México for an immersion trip with my original cohort of master’s degree students in January 2010 (all of the pictures in this article are from that immersion trip). It was an incredible experience, most especially being able to visit the Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe, see the tilma and Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image, and learn more about the meaningfulness of her apparition then and now. Through these opportunities, I gained a better appreciation of her significance for people of Mexican descent.
What my experience suggests to me is that Our Lady of Guadalupe can be a symbol of hope and dignity for all peoples who do not yet feel like they belong because of their differences and she can be a call to interculturality for those who have not yet recognized the belonging of these peoples. Even with a better appreciation and understanding of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her meaningfulness, I still do not know or experience her message in the same way as our brothers and sisters of Mexican descent do. However, by opening myself to her and to the indigenous culture she came to, I can appreciate the indigenous culture for its unique beauty and find common ground. This is what happens with interculturality – there is not a loss of culture, but a deepening appreciation and understanding so that the “other” becomes “us” in their uniqueness.
In this way, the Virgen de Guadalupe is also a sign of hope, acceptance, dignity, welcome, belonging, and more for disability cultures. She is a reminder for those in the mainstream of the equal dignity of the disabled and the need to open one’s self to people with disabilities in a way that recognizes them as “us”.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. Remind those who do not feel accepted, welcomed, or belonging that you are their Mother, too and that they are already members of the Body of Christ. Inspire the conversion of heart, mind, and eyes in those who do not yet see their brothers and sisters on the margins of our Church and our societies. May you help us to love Jesus Christ more deeply and recognize God’s presence in the diversity of cultures of all types, including disability cultures.