What the Virgin of Guadalupe Meant for Latin America

Interview With Historian Father Fidel González Fernández

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 28, 2004 (Zenit.org).- It's not possible to understand the history of the evangelization of Mexico and Latin America without the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, says a historian.



Comboni Father Fidel González Fernández, the rector of the Urban College and a professor of history in several pontifical universities of Rome, has played a key part in the research that supported the canonization of Juan Diego, the Indian who witnessed the apparitions.

Father González Fernández, together with Legionary Father Paolo Scarafoni, rector of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, are coordinating the publication by the Vatican Press of a book entitled "Guadalupe, Evangelization of Latin America" ("Guadalupe, Evangelizzazione dell'America Latina") in which they gather the minutes of a congress on the topic, held in Rome.

ZENIT interviewed Father González Fernández, to have a better understanding of the conclusions.

Q: How did the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe change the history of Mexico and of the evangelization of Latin America?

Father González Fernández: The Guadalupe event was the answer of grace to a situation that humanly was very difficult: the relation between the Indians and those who had just arrived from the European world.

In that meeting [with the Virgin of Guadalupe], the Indian Juan Diego was the link between the old Mexican world and the Christian missionary proposal that came through Hispanic mediation.

The result was the enlightenment of a new Christianized people. Juan Diego was neither a Spaniard who arrived with the conquistadors like Cortez, nor a Spanish missionary as the first who were Franciscans and Dominicans. He was a native who belonged to that old world.

Juan Diego was the missionary chosen by God for this meeting in which Christ is incarnated again in a concrete cultural humanity through the mediation of Mary.

The meeting, which in a well-known letter to Emperor Charles V a missionary regarded as humanly impossible if Holy Mary did not intervene, has now become a liberating reality.

Those two worlds, until then unknown to one another, and now enemies -- with all the reasons for hatred or the fatalistic acceptance of defeat on the part of the vanquished Indians, and for the contempt and exploitation by the newly arrived -- began to recognize one another in the tangible symbol of Mary, image of the Church, proclaimed through a converted Indian and accepted by all.

So there was an enculturation of the Christian event in the Mexican cultural world. It was the birth of the Latin American people.

Forgetfulness of this history and this data would cause the great ruptures and antagonisms between those two worlds, reinterpreted by new situations, beginning especially with the 18th and 19th centuries. An interior convergence of the two is the miracle that only the Christian event can constantly illuminate.

Q: What were the consequences of the "Guadalupan event"?

Father González Fernández: The consequences of such a meeting in the history of Christianity are numerous and important.

First of all, from the point of view of statistics, Catholics of Hispanic-Portuguese language constitute the statistical majority of the members of the Catholic Church.

From the point of view of missionary methodology in the history of Christianity, Christian missionaries belong to the band of the conquistadors and had to assume the defense of the human rights of the "conquered" people before their own compatriots who acknowledged themselves Christians.

On the part of the conquistadors themselves, there immediately arose a self-criticism of their action and this was due to their Catholic conscience. They themselves would become, from their own experience, missionaries of the Christian faith.

In the third place, being consistent with the Gospel, frank and strong in denunciation, the Catholic missionaries did not opt for one of these two worlds against the other. They presented the Christian event as a significant event for both.

In this, God mysteriously decided that the Guadalupan event would be the confirmation of the essential methodology of the Christian proclamation and an effective impetus for it in those first dramatic moments.

This shows us how Christianity is a phenomenon capable of dialogue with what is human from the first moment that it comes into contact with a human situation, no matter how dramatic it is.

Q: Can it be said, therefore, that the Virgin of Guadalupe is an event of exceptional communion in the continent's history?

Father González Fernández: The image of Mary before which the Indian is kneeling is the link that will unite the two worlds represented on the mural to which I have just referred. This is how it has been perceived by the authentic Mexican Christian tradition, for example.

This is the aspect that Pope John Paul II, during his second visit to Mexico in the month of May 1990, stressed when he proposed Indian Juan Diego as the true apostle of his people and "messenger" of holy Mary of Guadalupe, and he did the same with his canonization on July 31, 2002.

The miracle realized in Latin America, and in Mexico in particular, is that such awareness of Christian belonging has come down to our day, overcoming the numerous vicissitudes, often dramatic, of its history.

Suffice it to read Mexican history: from the painful gestation of the Mexican people to the bloody repressions of the Church by Masonry and radical anti-clericalism, or the external violence suffered throughout the last two centuries.

Surely, devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe, based on the Guadalupan event, constitutes a notable point of religious and cultural convergence for Mexican Catholics, for Latin Americans. We also believe that this is true with ever greater force, for the whole continent, including that of Anglo-Saxon matrix.

The Guadalupan event continues to affirm the methods used by God in salvific history: the use of a particular historical event that has a universal dimension.

The Guadalupan event is an event of history and not a simple symbol fashioned with an ideological objective or as a consequence of an ambiguous popular religiosity.

The historical documentation collected in these last years offers the data that leads us reasonably to the affirmation of its historicity and to the understanding of its Christian meaning.