Guadalupe Comes North

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

In word and deed, the central message of Pope John Paul II's visit to Mexico and Guatemala has been a call to elevate the status of indigenous people in the Catholic Church and in society. Such a message, 500 years overdue, is welcome - and it also shows an understanding of where the church's future lies. The pope's message also has meaning for Oregonians, as the state's culture broadens to include a robust Hispanic element.

On Wednesday, the pope canonized the church's first saint of Native American descent - the 16th century Aztec shepherd Juan Diego. His canonization bestows recognition on the man Mexicans have esteemed for his visions of the Virgin Mary on a hillside in 1531. More than a million pilgrims came to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to catch a glimpse of the pope.

The populations of Indian nations then freshly conquered by Spain began a large-scale conversion to Catholicism within a few years of the apparitions, and today the Americas are the church's most secure stronghold. Juan Diego's story of the dark-skinned, Indian-featured virgin is well-known throughout Latin America, where the Virgin of Guadalupe is a familiar and beloved figure in both religious art and popular culture. The image of the virgin remains on Juan Diego's cactus-fabric cloak, which hangs behind the altar of the basilica that was built on the site of the apparitions.

Guadalupe's image has moved northward with the 215,000 people of Mexican descent in Oregon, and has spread beyond the Hispanic community. She is invoked as a merciful mother figure; devotion to the pregnant icon has been embraced by members of the pro-life movement. Anti-abortion vigils in front of Eugene's recently closed All Women's Health Center regularly displayed Guadalupe's image along 11th Avenue. …