MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Switching to another part of the world now, this is an important religious day for some Catholics, especially those from Mexico and other parts of Central and Latin America. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That's when the faithful celebrate the appearance of an apparition of the Virgin Mary known as the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City back in 1531.
Since then, the image of Guadalupe has become an icon throughout Latin America as a symbol, not just of faith, but also of native pride and resistance against oppression.
Here to tell us more about the Virgin of Guadalupe and her feast day is Friar Gilberto Cavazos-Gonzalez. He is a Franciscan scholar and an associate professor of spirituality at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
GILBERTO CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Is there a greeting I should have used to observe the feast, say, Happy Guadalupe Day or something like that?
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: Yeah. Happy Guadalupe Day or Viva la (unintelligible) Guadalupe.
MARTIN: All right. That works.
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: Either one.
MARTIN: Viva la (unintelligible). Thank you. And is there a specific celebration that will be observed today? I know, I understand - I just want to clarify. This is the last in the series of four days when she's said to have appeared, but how is the celebration observed?
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: The celebration is observed traditionally by getting up around 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, going to church, bringing flowers, singing songs, praying. There may or may not be a Mass involved. At the end of the celebration, tamales, chocolate, cookies. Breakfast, basically.
MARTIN: Okay. Sounds good. Sounds good.
MARTIN: Now, there's a very specific image associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Can you just describe that for people who aren't familiar with it and tell us what the meaning behind it is?
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: Sure. The image of Guadalupe is the Virgin Mary looking like a Mexican young lady, basically light dark skin, her head bowed down, her hands in prayer, her knees slightly bent, standing in a rose pink dress with a blueish green mantle with various stars on the mantle. She is standing on the moon, being carried by an angel and behind her are the rays of the sun.
MARTIN: And the meaning is?
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: The meaning is, first, the skin tone. She's neither European nor Native American. She's a combination of the two. You know, she basically was the skin tone of the new children that were being born of Mexican women who had, unfortunately, been either violated or seduced by European men. She has the skin tone of the unwanted children of the violent conquests of Mexico, symbolizing that these children are human. They are worthy of being children of God as well. Mexicans take pride in that, in that we are those children of the violent conquest who have been adopted by God.
Her hands in prayer and her face tilted, she's telling the Indians, I'm not a goddess. I am the servant of a god. And at her neck she wears a cross, so thereby basically proclaiming to God, I serve is(ph) to God, Jesus Christ.
MARTIN: You know, I'm sorry. I understand that a lot of the power of the Virgin of Guadalupe's story is also about the man who saw her. He was Juan Diego...
MARTIN: ...an Aztec man. Tell us a little bit more about that, if you would.
MARTIN: Or about him, I should say.
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: About him. Right, exactly. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin is his full name. Juan Diego basically - his Indian name, the Eagle that Speaks. He was about 50 or so years old. He was on his way to Mass. He was one of the very few natives who would actually become Catholic, and on his way he's passing by the mountain of the ancient mother goddess when he hears music and he goes up the hill because he is curious that he runs into Guadalupe. Obviously, like everybody that runs into the Virgin Mary, they all feel unworthy and they don't feel like they're up to the task of fulfilling what she would like done.
And so he pretty much followed that pattern, and normally she tends to appear to children or to the poor or the oppressed.
MARTIN: Now, I understand - if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the Virgin of Guadalupe, a saint whose feast day is celebrated today throughout Latin and Central America. And our guest is Friar Gilberto Cavazos-Gonzalez. He is a Franciscan scholar and an associate professor of spirituality, and he's telling us - and an expert on the Virgin of Guadalupe, as you would imagine.
Now, I understand that the Virgin of Guadalupe holds a significance, a special significance even for people who are not religious. Can you tell us more about that?
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: In Mexico, it is said, you might not be Christian, but all Mexicans are Guadalupan. I was watching a movie last night about our lady of Guadalupe and a Spanish archeologist is in Mexico and he's dealing with Christians, he's dealing with Jews, and he's dealing with Muslims, all of whom are Mexican and all of whom have some kind of devotion to Guadalupe.
Besides being a spiritual and religious symbol, she's also a symbol of ethnic pride. She's also a symbol of revolution against the oppressor. Miguel Hildago, the father of Mexico, you know, grabs the standard or the banner of Guadalupe in order to begin the revolution against Spain. And as a result, she becomes the national and secular symbol as well.
MARTIN: Now, you know, I know that the term liberation theology is bandied about, sometimes embraced, sometimes rejected, but...
MARTIN: But would it be fair to say that the Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of those who believe that there should be a special place of prominence and care for the poor and oppressed, that she is, that she sides, essentially, with those who are in need of care, who are on the bottom as opposed to on the top?
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: Sure. The Virgin of Guadalupe, interestingly enough, is a fulfillment of the gospel of Luke. The image of Mary in the gospel of Luke is not a humble servant woman. She's a woman who's determined. She's a woman who's powerful and in the only prayer that we have of the Virgin Mary to God, she pretty much challenges God to side with the poor, to send the rich away empty handed and to make sure that the hungry are fed.
Interestingly enough, the Virgin of Guadalupe receives the name of Guadalupe in Spain, which was an earlier image of Guadalupe and is an image that is said to have been carved by the evangelist saint Luke himself. Saint Luke has a particular care in making sure that people know that Jesus has a preferential option for the poor. Liberation theology, liberation spirituality, picks up on the gospel of Saint Luke and Jesus's preference for the poor and the oppressed.
MARTIN: And Father(ph), finally – or Friar, finally, before we let you go, taking advantage of your location in Chicago, you know, the center of the United States, as a Latino diaspora has moved around the country, have we seen the veneration of this saint travel along with that diaspora? Has the veneration changed at all since the arrival of, you know, methods of the Latino diaspora beyond Latin America and Central America?
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: Sure. First, we need to remember every American country, including the United States, has a Marian patron, a sort of patron saint in reference to the Virgin Mary, here the immaculate conception. In every country in Latin America, including Canada, also has its Marian patrons.
Mexico has Guadalupe. Guadalupe, however, has been called by the pope the Empress of America. She is the patron saint of the whole continent. The Mexican diaspora in the United States and actually in Canada as well in some ways is recalling or reminding Americans everywhere, no matter what country, that Guadalupe is our patron saint if we belong to this continent.
MARTIN: That was Friar Gilberto Cavazos-Gonzalez. He is associate professor of spirituality at the Catholic Theological Union. He's also a Franciscan scholar and he was kind enough to join us from Chicago.
Friar, thank you so much for speaking with us.
CAVAZOS-GONZALEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.