For the March 22 issue of Angelus, we interviewed Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ, John Allen, and Msgr. Eduardo Chavez — all of whom offered a glimpse at what they’ll be talking about the weekend of March 22-24.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of Catholicism’s most iconic images, the object of religious devotion and popular piety throughout Latin America and easily recognizable by Catholics around the world.
There is no one alive today who knows more about Guadalupe than Msgr. Eduardo Chavez. The director of the Superior Institute of Guadalupan Studies in Mexico City has devoted the greater part of his life and priesthood to making the world understand the importance of her apparitions to a poor Nahuatl native five centuries ago.
It’s a field of study that continues to yield surprises, not least to Chavez himself. On March 22 and 23, Chavez will host a pair of Spanish-language workshops titled “The truth about Guadalupe” and “The image of love.”
During a recent visit to Mexico City, I sat down with Chavez in his office just a few blocks away from the Basilica of Guadalupe. The following is an excerpted version of our conversation.
As postulator for the cause of canonization of Saint Juan Diego, you had to deal with those who said that Juan Diego never existed, that he shouldn’t be made a saint. But you’ve also talked about how the devil attacks the things that are worthwhile and true. Were those attacks on Juan Diego proof of this?
Yes, and I say this because when we get together, and we see that it is a very good thing and beautiful, I know it's going to be something so important.
I say it this way as some very devout people say it, or like people from old ages say it, and I don’t care. Because the truth, the essence is true. When there are good things the devil puts its tail in between and the tail, as Pope Francis said recently, is division.
And there's going to be that problem. Because it is exactly what happens when things are beautiful, great, true, and divine. There are things that the devil obviously does not want in the world and in the human heart.
Here in Mexico City there’s a lot of talk about physical miracles and healings, like the ones that Jesus Christ performed to open people’s eyes. But, as they say, there is always a more important miracle, which is the moral miracle. Have you witnessed this?
Do you not think it’s a miracle that you, being Spanish and American, are interviewing me now to talk about the Virgin of Guadalupe, especially in Los Angeles? It’s a miracle!
There are constant miracles. They come here from many parts of the world, from the Philippines and Holland, for example. She moves all human beings in their hearts.
The rows of baptisms, the rows of confessions, the Masses are always full. I remember, for example, one occasion when we went to Rome, when we were going on a pilgrimage a person told me, “Here the churches are like museums, there is no one in them, only art pieces.”
And here it is the life of the people, we constantly see the people’s piety and that moves you, of course. You see people of all kinds, of every nation. That is impressive.
Besides, I know that the Virgin of Guadalupe together with Juan Diego, I think they made a pact, something in those terms, because when people pray for life, it happens — I’m a witness. People who cannot have a baby and they give birth to one, for example.
There are miracles of all kinds, but you said very well, the greatest miracle is the conversion of the heart.
It has been almost 500 years since the apparitions. What else is there to talk about Guadalupe? One could think that everything has already been said about her, right?
(Laughter) It makes me laugh because a priest friend of mine once told me, “Four hours talking about the Virgin of Guadalupe? So, what’s all that that you see in the Virgin of Guadalupe?”
It is not just about repeating the same story. It is about discovering so many more things. I myself am amazed at everything she is constantly teaching us. For example, the canonization of San Juan Diego came in 2002, after a thorough study of documents. And then … surprise!
It was in 2007, when I was able to manifest something totally new, that nobody knew, which is Panquetzaliztli: Why did she appear from Dec. 9 through 12 in 1531? Why on that date? Why in that time? And it is only in 2007 that we started to realize why, after a deep study into Guadalupe.
When I told it to Cardinal [Norberto Rivera, archbishop emeritus of Mexico City] back then, he gave me a hug, and all excited told me, “You have to proclaim this to the whole world.” I did it in Lourdes. In Lourdes, how strange, right?
How do you get people to understand, even Mexicans, but also foreigners, that this virgin is the same one that appeared in Lourdes, in Czestochowa, and in so many places?
I understand what you mean. So much so that I ask myself that same question. How to make them understand that there are not multiple Virgins, that she is always the same. And on one occasion, especially in the United States, or on several occasions in the United States, I have always told them, “It’s a good thing that you are sitting down, because I want to tell you that the Virgin of Guadalupe is not Mexican.”
And of course, their eyes get wide. And I tell them, “The Virgin of Guadalupe is not Mexican.” And they freeze. “She’s Jewish. The girl of Nazareth, the maiden of Nazareth,” I tell them. And I hear people sigh and say, “Oh, yes.” She is the maiden of Nazareth that was created in this enculturation.
Then I tell them: “She does not even speak Spanish, but Nahuatl. She has a name that’s not even Spanish, but Arabic and Jewish.” That is, she is the one who enculturated her son, put him in every human heart, beyond borders, traditions, languages.
It becomes Mexican, it becomes French, it becomes Polish, etc. When we are talking about this, and I think people do capture, and after the initial amazement they capture what I am saying. That we are talking about the maiden of Nazareth. The one that said, “Yes, do unto me according to your word.”
I am a witness that in many places there is your local devotion. Let’s see: in Peru, Our Lady of Mercedes. In Argentina, Luján. In Poland, Częstochowa, etc.
When you talk about the Virgin of Guadalupe, when you manifest what the Virgin of Guadalupe is, believe me, I am a witness, it’s a huge thing! I have seen it and I've lived it. However, she is not in a kind of competition with the local image.
No, on the contrary, people understand the Virgin of Guadalupe and how she is also a personification, let’s say, representation, of their local image. I do not see hatred, or anything like that against her. That is how Guadalupe is. She belongs to all the races.
Pablo Kay is the editor of Angelus.
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