MEETING - August 20th


Our Lady of Guadalupe


The simple faith of a people who have venerated the image
of the Virgin for 500 years. The World Youth Day.
The Mexican elections. An interview with the Archbishop
of Mexico City, Norberto Rivera Carrera,
who spoke at the Meeting in Rimini




Every time he tells the story of what happened five hundred years ago with the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the miracle of the simple faith of a people who continue to venerate the mysterious image that took shape on Blessed Juan Diego’s “tilma,” his eyes fill with wonder. Norberto Rivera Carrera, 58 years old, Cardinal Primate of Mexico, spoke at the Meeting to testify how God became incarnate in the history of the Mexican people. “The concrete path by which I and the majority of my people came to believe in Christ is through Mary.”

Your Eminence, don’t you fear being perceived as somewhat archaic in showing such a strong attachment to an apparition and to practices of popular piety?
I look at the Gospel. Our Redeemer manifested his glory for the first time during a wedding feast in the country, at Cana in Galilee. On that occasion, Mary was the protagonist: she is the one who takes the initiative, she is the one who insistently asks Jesus to do something when the wine runs out. But she is also the first person to submit to his authority. This is exactly what Mary did in our land.

Can you describe briefly the apparitions at Guadalupe?
The story is a simple one. A beautiful lady appeared to a poor native and spoke to him in words so beautiful and pure as to be worthy of the councils of Nicaea and Ephesus. They have been handed down to us in the Nican Mopohua, the most ancient narrative in the Anàhuac language: “I am the perfect ever Virgin Holy Mary, mother of the true God, by whom we live and have our being, the Lord who is close to everything and in whom everything is summed up, the master of heaven and earth…. I want you to be so good as to build me a temple. I shall show it, enlarge it, and give it to him, to the one who is all my love, to him who is my compassionate gaze…. Because in truth I have the honor of being your compassionate Mother, yours and all the people on this earth, as you are one thing only…. I shall always be willing to hear their cry, their sadness, to care for all their various miseries, their pains, their griefs. And to accomplish what he wants, my gaze of mercy.” Mary asked the native to go tell the bishop what he had seen and heard. The bishop did not believe him and asked for proof, and as you know, when Juan Diego returned to him with his cloak full of flowers that had inexplicably bloomed out of season, the marvelous image of Mary that we still venerate today was imprinted on his cloak.

What strikes you about the story of Guadalupe?
Its immaculate purity and theological orthodoxy, but also its form and the fact that it is so close to our ancestors’ culture and way of thinking. It is surprising that the evangelizers are a woman and a simple native, and that the one to be evangelized is the bishop. Even today it is difficult to imagine that a bishop could be catechized by a native. We must remember that this happened in the sixteenth century and that at that time a human mind would not have been able to conceive of something like this. The author knew the native mind as no missionary of that time could have known it.

What can you say about the nature of the image?
Further study is needed. But it is an image that continues to exist after 500 years, when other paintings on the same material last at the most thirty years. It contains signs and symbols that no painter could have imagined at the time. The woman is pregnant, and at that time no one painted Mary as pregnant. The sun and the moon appear contemporaneously, two elements that in the native mind could not have been in any way associated. The native deities always have terrifying faces, while Mary has a seraphic and very beautiful aspect. In a word, the image is a code that anyone of the indigenous culture can easily decipher, and this has aroused the devotion of humble people. The creator of this image that marks the beginning of the great evangelization of our people knows the indigenous culture profoundly, but at the same time does not assume it completely…

What are the millions of people who every year pass before the image looking for?
I like to remember that a great theologian, Father Alszeghy, thirty years ago exclaimed, “I would gladly give my writings and the years I have spent in research and teaching in exchange for one moment of contemplation like that lived by those who come to see Our Lady.” Perhaps the best answer lies in the words pronounced by an old lady who, blind and near death, asked to be taken to Our Lady of Guadalupe. They said to her, “Why are you going if you can’t see anything?” She replied, “I did not come to ask the Virgin for health, nor did I come to see her. I came so that she can see me and so she can recognize me when I get to heaven.” It is a remarkable fact that in the course of the centuries we priests have not catechized in order to explain the image nor have we generated any propaganda. Rather, the clergy has been the most incredulous. The missionaries had always suspected that behind the faith of Guadalupe lurked indigenous deities, and still today there are those who are suspicious of the simple faith of the natives. People, instead, go there to see, and there they find faith.

Isn’t there a risk of giving too much credit to a private revelation?
I think not. What happened at Guadalupe is a concrete event. Every person starts to believe after a personal encounter with Jesus. He became incarnate 2,000 years ago, but he continues to be present in our personal histories and in the history of peoples.

What impression have you drawn from your time at the Meeting?
I saw individuals with the most disparate interests, from an interest in lunch to an interest in culture or economics. For everyone, it was possible to receive a message and an announcement. My final impression of the day in Rimini is a very positive one.

Before coming to Rimini, you took part in the World Youth Day. How was that?
I was amazed and astounded, and not only for the number of participants. I was struck at how these young people prayed. I had some wonderful encounters; I was a witness to how God continues to touch the human heart.

Seeing the events in Rome with World Youth Day, some have spoken of “strategies cleverly pursued”…
These young people will certainly not let themselves be taken in by our strategies nor do they respond to propaganda. They were there for an encounter. You have to let the Holy Spirit do his work. I believe that often we priests create problems by thinking we have to say to young people, “Do this, don’t do that.” But many of them have no sense of sin, because they do not know Jesus. You cannot propose a morality or ethics a priori by saying, “This way you will encounter Christianity.” In reality the dynamics are exactly the opposite. First a person meets the Lord, and because of that encounter he or she has a new attitude toward life. Then we still have to keep in mind that being touched by Christ does not cancel out our human weaknesses, and that changing one’s life is never automatic or something to be taken for granted.

Recently, Mexico elected a new president, and after seventy years the Institutional Revolutionary Party is out of power. What do you expect now?
It must be recognized, first of all, that the outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo worked to enable a peaceful transition and encouraged the democratic participation of the people. We expect many changes: the economy has grown, and now this growth has to be translated into better living conditions for families. We expect improvements in the school system and above all, initiatives to stem the violence that is widespread in the country.