One year ago today, Pope Benedict XVI launched the papal Twitter account, sending his first “tweet” to more than one million followers. Fittingly, his effort to preach the Gospel in a new way to a worldwide audience on the “digital continent” came on December 12, 2012, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who played a key role in the evangelization of the New World.
Long before the days of our modern social media, Our Lady of Guadalupe attracted millions of “followers,” always leading them to her son, our Lord Jesus. In 1531 on a hill outside Mexico City, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as a young pregnant native woman to Juan Diego, a farmer, and spoke to him in his own language, asking that a church be built there. Later, she instructed him to gather flowers in his tilma – a cloak made of cactus cloth – and present them to the bishop. After gathering roses on the hillside, Juan Diego unfurled the tilma for the bishop, and imprinted on it was a miraculous image of Mary as she had appeared to him.
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s loving presence, first to a single poor farmer, helped inspire millions of Aztecs to become Catholic. Mary, who said “yes” to God’s call to become the mother of Jesus, held the newborn Christ Child in the stable at Bethlehem. She was with Jesus for his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana and stood at the foot of the cross when he died. Mary was also present in the upper room at Pentecost, at the birth of the Church. As the mother of Jesus, the mother of the Church and our Blessed Mother, Mary exemplifies the importance of staying close to Jesus, who is with us always.
Each year, millions of pilgrims travel to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, one of the most visited shrines in the world, and they see Mary’s image on Saint Juan Diego’s nearly 500-year-old tilma. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults notes, “As her image was imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma, so Mary becomes imprinted in the deepest recesses of the hearts of all who come to her.”
To honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, pilgrims in our own Archdiocese of Washington will meet at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart on December 14 at noon, then process through the streets of the city to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for a 2:30 p.m. Mass.
That walk of faith is beautifully depicted at the National Shrine’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, where mosaics depict people from many different backgrounds and ages venerating the Queen of the Americas, just as they do every day at her shrine in Mexico City.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has been called the Star of the New Evangelization. We who are called to take up that work can learn from Mary how we can bring Jesus to others by our loving presence. Mary touched the heart of one simple man and ultimately changed the history of the Americas. Today, Mexico has an estimated 100 million Catholics, trailing only Brazil. Approximately 425 million Catholics live in Latin America and the Caribbean, constituting 39 percent of the world’s Catholics, and now we have our first Pope from the Americas.
Pope Francis, who now has 10 million Twitter followers in nine languages, calls us to continue Mary’s work of evangelization as missionaries of Jesus in our everyday lives. Our Lady of Guadalupe shows us the way.