Last week dozens of bishops, priests, religious men and women and lay leaders from throughout the American continent gathered at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe for an extraordinary event. The purpose of this pilgrimage was to reflect in prayer and conversation on the progress of evangelization in the Americas from Canada to Argentina, and every land and nation in between. I was privileged to participate in this marvelous “encuentro”. The timing was significant. We gathered at the conclusion of the Year of Faith, fifteen years after Blessed John Paul II published his apostolic exhortation on the Church in America (Ecclesia in America) and to prepare to receive Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization called, appropriately, the Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium.
There is also a profound significance in the fact this continental congress on the New Evangelization was held in the place where the first evangelization of the Americas received its decisive impulse. In 1531 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous layman, St. Juan Diego, and entrusted to him the mission to bring her message to the first bishop of the Americas, Bishop Zumarraga of Mexico. She asked that a church be built on Tepayac hill, the place where she appeared to this humble man. When the wise bishop requested a sign to authenticate this extraordinary request from such an unlikely messenger, Mary responded not only by making roses bloom in December on a rocky hillside, but by imprinting her image in the tilma (cloak) that Juan Diego used to carry these roses back to the bishop. The miraculous image of Mary, who had taken on the mestizo features of the local people, as well as the remarkable symbols contained in the image itself, became the model for a perfectly inculturated preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this land, so recently discovered by Europeans.
What followed was the most extraordinary flowering of evangelization in the Church’s history. In Christian history the conversion of nations was often brought about by the conversion of their kings and rulers. This chapter had more humble beginnings involving the faithful response of a layman to Mary’s humble request on behalf of her Son. When simple people saw the miraculous image they were converted by the experience of God’s love for them displayed in the tender and compassionate face of the Virgin, who is pregnant with her divine Son. Within a few short years millions of conversions and baptisms followed.
This event was the impulse for the evangelization of our American continent. How appropriate that we returned there to pray for a New Evangelization of America and entrust this ardent prayer to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, star of the new evangelization of the American continent.
I was deeply moved at each of our Masses in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Just as at the first Pentecost Mary was in the midst of the apostles and disciples praying and awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so we bishops, as successors to the Apostles, together with disciples from throughout the Americas were gathered in prayer with Mary in our midst. Her presence can be palpably felt in that sacred place, made holy by her visitation in 1531, and where her miraculous image continues to be venerated as a reminder of God’s love for us and Mary’s maternal compassion and protection.
It was also deeply reassuring and consoling to offer to Mary, on behalf of our archdiocese, the fruit of our recently concluded envisioning process, and the pastoral vision and priorities that were its fruit. As expressed in my recent pastoral letter, Go Make Disciples, our own archdiocesan vision, priorities and goals are closely aligned with the renewal of evangelization being called for in our time, most recently expressed in Pope Francis’ exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, that will be published on the Solemnity of Christ the King at the conclusion of the Year of Faith. My prayer, entrusted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the star of the new evangelization, is that the fruits of the Year of Faith will endure as we set about together along the path of discipleship and mission. As with the first evangelization of the Americas, the new evangelization in our time begins with an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Conversion and mission flows from that encounter with divine grace and mercy, and without such an encounter, all of our efforts are in vain.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us!