On Going to Guadalupe

Leaving aside the apparition itself, which is as supernatural a sight as anything to be seen this side of Paradise, perhaps the most striking feature about the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the fact that there appear to be only Hispanics and Latinos who actually go there.  Vast numbers, to be sure, who present the most moving spectacle of faith, particularly in the intensity of the attention they pay to the Woman they regard as their Mother.  Here then are her beloved children, come to pay tribute, an act of homage shorn of every blessing save that of the certainty of the hope that they are embraced by the arms of God’s own Mother.  She whom the Church, in an ancient hymn dating back to the 5th century, dares to call “Paradise…for in you has bloomed the flower of immortality.”   

But, seriously, where are all the gringos?

My wife and I visited Mexico some years back, making our way to the shrine that limns the heart of Hispanic faith and devotion.  And having come away enriched by the experience, we continue to ask ourselves that very question.  Could it be that most Catholics on this side of the border simply do not know enough about the place to persuade them to go there?  And, really, what possible relevance could a 16th century Mexican shrine offer to people whose workaday existence is spent amid the privileged precincts of post-modernity?   Is that perhaps the problem, that too many flesh-pots have gotten in the way, obstructing a clear and childlike vision of Our Lady?  In the circumstance, will more gringos go once the facts are made known?

And what are those facts?  The narrative is easily enough told, however incredible the telling.  On a cold winter morning in December 1531, a poor Indian peasant by the name of Juan Diego, while en route to Mass some 15 miles away, is suddenly arrested by the sight of a dazzlingly beautiful young woman, who, announcing herself as the “perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God, through whom everything lives,” urges him to go and tell the bishop of Mexico City to raise up a house of God whence she may tell all the world of her wish to remedy the sufferings “of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me.”

So Juan hurries off to inform the bishop of Our Lady’s request.  In due course the church is built, but not without repeated visits to the episcopal palace, where the poor fellow is rudely rebuffed by the usual chancery suspects, i.e., middle management types, whose job has always been to keep the sheep from their shepherd.  Yet even they become convinced, stupefied even, when, the stunning profusion of Castilian roses having fallen from his worn cloak to the floor (they had been freshly plucked that very day from the frozen  ground), the face and figure of Our Lady herself is revealed, her radiant countenance miraculously inscribed in the very tilma itself.

The one perfect image of Our Lady in existence, here is something whose integrity has survived not only the blast of a bomb (tossed by a terrorist back in 1921) or the solvent of acid accidentally spilled more recently, but the all too predictable ravages of nearly five hundred years of time and history.

It is a wonderful story.  One would have to be either very cynical, or brutish, not to be moved by it.  And consider the place where these events overlapped, a setting positively blood-drenched from the daily sacrifices wrought by Aztec religion, in which the hearts of hundreds of thousands of living victims were torn out in order to slake the appetite of an obscene god.  It was this barbarity that the appearance of the Blessed Virgin had come to banish forever.

What happens in the aftermath of the apparitions is, quite simply, the most spectacular number of conversions in the history of the world.  More than enough certainly to compensate the Church for whatever losses she sustained in the Old World as a result of a divided Christendom.  If five million were lost owing to the theological upheavals then sweeping across Northern Europe, imagine the sheer impact of nine million more added as a result of wave upon wave of Aztecs clamoring for baptism.  Is it any surprise, therefore, that today there are 92 million (and counting) Roman Catholics living in Mexico, making it the second largest Catholic country in the world?  Or that Guadalupe has become the world’s most popular Marian shrine?

GuadalupeAnd maybe that is just the problem we gringos have with Guadalupe.  We are embarrassed by her.  And even more by those who rush to lay their sorrows at her feet, convinced that only her intercession can assuage what the poet Dana Gioia has called “the bitterness of the earth and ashes.”  That life is a cheat, in other words, and that the perpetual injustice of the world is an affliction too awful to ask mere humans to have to bear.  Yet in her complete identification with the poor and the sick, with the simple faithful whose lives are marked not by middle class comfort but by suffering and loss, she offends our bourgeois respectability.  And so we recoil from the warmth of that kinship with the Mother of God that is a distinguishing feature of Latin ad Hispanic Catholicism.  For those of us whose lives are glutted with gratifications, our choices more and more determined by sensate desire, faith has become an abstraction, increasingly unreal to people consumed by the goods and services they possess.  And a religion thus reduced really does not need a Mother.

This is why when Pope John Paul II first went to Mexico in 1979, there to present a vision for the whole Church that would both begin and end with Mary (“Mary must be more than ever the pedagogy,” answered the bishops of Latin and South America to the pope’s appeal, “in order to proclaim the Gospel to the men of today”), we were simply not interested.  Even if her life and mission were to illumine the whole landscape of truth concerning ourselves and God, we would not budge.  For us gringos, ensconced in comfort zones all across the fruited plain, devotion to Mary does not compute.  And until it does, and we start entreating Our Blessed Lady as children who ardently need their Mother, nothing much will happen to us; certainly we will not grow in that sanctity of which she remains the world’s most radiant and unsurpassed example.

“Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief,” she told Juan Diego then, as she tells us now.  “Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not your fountain of life?  Are you not in the folds of my mantle?  In the crossing of my arms?  Is there anything else you need?”

Yes, there is.  A bit of wisdom to see, as our ancestors once did, that about Mary one can never say enough (De Maria nunquam satis). And then the courage to believe it.

Regis Martin


Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including, most recently, Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012). He resides in Steubenville, Ohio, with his wife and ten children.

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  • LizEst

    Seriously, we are offended by her??! No, that’s not it. Our culture is always after the “latest thing”…and, these days, there are many supposed latest “appearances” of Mary. So, that’s where people go; that’s what they gravitate to. Just so, this is what happens when there is a “Eucharistic miracle.” Why should that be when that miracle takes place at every Mass? I am not in the least offended by our Blessed Mother, wherever she authentically appears, as approved by the Church.

  • Mary

    Would love to go. Gringos have a price on their heads in Mexico. You need armored security from the airport to the center. Even Mexicans here in Texas are afraid to go to Mexico now.

  • stephen ryan

    Great article..But the question is not only “Where are all the Gringoes?” but where are all the Native Americans in the United States. Our Lady of Guadalupe came with a mixed skin – a skin tone painted by God – to not only convert, but to warn about the dangers of racism, This warning was not heeded by out Protestant brothers north of the Rio Grande who dismiss the Blessed Mother. The result? Epic racial horror – 1831 Indian relocation act, Ethnic cleansing, trail of tears and the chastisement known as the Civil War where 600,000 young men lost their lives fighting over the right to hold humans in bondage. I have a book out *(aug 013) titled The Madonna Files. It tells the whole story

  • Cynthia Campos

    A Mexican friend recently told me the story of his visit to Our Lady. He says he was struck by the number of Asians that were visiting and their devotion to Our Lady, it was a beautiful thing to see.

    I hope to go visit one day, I feel truly blessed to call her Our Mother!

  • rr

    If you were to say FIlipinos it would make perfect sense. The Philippines had as Patroness the Virgen de Guadalupe. To say Asian is too vague and technically starts in the Middle East.

  • Ray

    Went to Guadalupe in 1994 with a large group of “gringos.” Remember talking to a protestant couple who were visiting the shrine as well.

    Where do you get your statistics? Of course there are more Mexicans there. It’s next door to them, and Our Lady of Guadalupe is integral to their national identity. But I don’t think that Americans are strangers to the shrine at all.
    Perhaps there are more than we know of those lowlife American “people consumed by the goods and services they possess” who frequent the place Our Lady visited. And maybe she doesn’t look down on them either.

  • JMC

    It’s painful to see how Americans consistently ignore Our Lady of Guadalupe, when she is the patroness of *all the Americas,*” not just Mexico or South American. It is for that reason I participate wholeheartedly in the celebration of her feast with the Mexicans in our parish. I’m the only “gringo” there, and this in a parish dedicated to Our Lady under another title. Part of it, I’m sure, is related to the bigotry still present, if hidden, in the American South. The rest, though, I think is largely due to the “downplaying” of Mary that many parishes in the American Catholic Church have practiced since Vatican II. I remember when every parish used to have the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help once a week; then, one week, I tried to go and was told by the priest that the Church was “downplaying” Mary. He used that word. My entire family was scandalized when I brought that news back to them. It was scandalous then, and it’s scandalous now. The Holy Father has called for a “new evangelization;” I think we need to start with ourselves, by reviving devotion to Our Lady. I think this very “downplaying” is at the heart of Our Lady of Fatima’s message. She told us our Lord wants to establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart alongside the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The miraculous conversion of Russia that will happen after the consecration is finally properly performed is meant to prove that message to today’s skeptics. In my reading, I’ve noticed a pattern to Our Lady’s appearances, both before and since Fatima. Most of them point directly to that single event, echoing or enhancing that message. It’s my considered opinion that on several occasions, Our Lady herself revealed the Third Secret without telling us that’s what it was. Particularly in Amsterdam after World War 2, she told the visionary there things that have been since reiterated by those who have read the Third Secret. They were all placed under oath not to reveal the actual text, but apparently giving hints did not put them in violation of it. The Holy Father is being prevented from performing the consecration. I think Pope Francis wanted to do that in October, but was prevented in the strongest terms. Think about it. In all his public appearances, he has been upbeat, smiling, cheerful. That day, however, he was described as “subdued.” Prior press releases told us he intended to CONSECRATE the world to the IMMACULATE HEART, but when the time came, he used neither the words “consecrate” or “Immaculate Heart,” this from a man who earlier consecrated his papacy to the Immaculate Heart. Something is rotten in the Vatican itself. That’s why we are told to pray “very much” for the Holy Father. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.

  • Ashleen

    This was so beautiful, thank you so much. It made me cry because I realized that Our Lady of Guadalupe is so close to the broken hearted and she shows us that God saves. You really wrote a beautiful piece.

  • Rocío

    I´m from Mexico City. if you want to come and visit Our Lady, you can do it. Yes, it is true that Mexico is going through hard times, but the news you watch exagerate. We all live our lives normally (remember: we live under the protection of Our Lady) and it isn´t true that gringos have a price on their heads. On the contrary, we are very nice people who love having foreigners visiting us. There are some bad guys out there, it´s true, but most of us are peaceful people who work very hard, who try to keep our family values which we are very fond of in spite of all the teririble things Hollywood movies promote and live our faith everyday as good Catholics. Don´t believe everything you watch in your tv news. Our beach resorts are still full of gringos who come here and enjoy and witness that things are not as terrible as they seem. Mexico is still standing and always will be because we are under Her protection, and always be. Why not? More than 6 million people are visitng the basillica today- SIX MILLION!!! She loves us…and we love her. The Basilica is always full, no matter what time of the day, no matter what day….and that´s why She will never stop protecting us.
    We are not the country you think we are…

  • Oldscore

    “Where are all the Gringos?” I always thought gringo was a pejorative term applied to whites. Given the racial tone and concern of the article, perhaps that is actually true.

    Gee, I can’t wait to go visit a place where they openly use racial terms to refer to me. Sounds like a winner.

  • Rocio

    The word “gringo” is NOT a racial term. It comes form war in which they(Americans) wore green coats, and people couldn´t pronounce it, so they said gringos. It´s more of a geographical term, since we, Mexicans, are Americans, too (as well as Argentineans, Peruvians, Brazilians, etc. We, who live in the American continent, from Canada all the way to the south, are Americans) In Spanish, USA is Estados Unidos, son the correct word is “estadounidenses”, but it´s too long. It´s never intended to offend anybody.

  • Rocio

    By the way, I am white. Many of us, Mexicans, are white (European descendants from many different countries, just like in the USA). We are a minority, but there are several millions of white people. However, we have the Spanish-Aztec culture in our blood, and are as Mexicans as everybody else in Mexico. So the word gringo, has nothing to do with race. As I explained, it is more of a geographical term.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Thanks for clarifying. Having been called a gringo by many Latino friends I knew it wasn’t an offensive term but I had no clue about the history of the term.

    I appreciate you’re clarification.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Sounds beautiful and quite the encouraging sight! It’s definitely on my top ten.

  • Ryan

    The article does bring up an interesting question. I think for me, personally, being white and speaking very little Spanish, I never venture into Mexico. I live in San Diego and read of the violence on a daily basis. Maybe it is over exaggerated, but I just would not want to risk driving down there and standing out as a target. If there was significantly less danger I’d take a trip in a heartbeat!

  • God Save America

    Sure much has to do with it being in Mexico. Not everyone can afford to travel there while currently, this is not that safe a country to travel in. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patron Saint of Mexico, so you would expect to find mostly people of Hispanic heritage visiting this Sacred Shrine. We were blessed in the late 70’s to visit the Shrine and there were a number of gringo tourista’s at the Shrine but for the most part, there were outnumbered by people from the region. Perhaps one day, if the Mexican government gains an upper hand in their battle against the drug cartels there might be a resurgence of gringo pilgrimages.

  • God Save America

    If this is so true, why are so many leaving Mexico to come into the United States illegally? If “under the protection of Our Lady”, would that not apply financially as well? Our own State Department have their staff personnel travel in armored vehicles whenever they transverse your nation. Please don’t get me wrong but I have seen a transformation of your country over the past decade to a place that is not a great place to visit. Mexico has a Great culture with a tremendous amount of natural resources which, if harnessed should make them a world leader. Unfortunately you have drug cartels and a government that prevent that from ever happening.

  • Riki


    If you follow the Master

    the world will reject you

    as it rejects the Pastor

    with a lot of ballyhoo

    The disciple is NOT above the Master

    nor the servant above his Lord

    the world is heading for a disaster

    the Creator is ready to have it restored

    The Queen of Heaven comes to warn

    us poor children of naughty Eve

    if we don’t listen, we’ll surely mourn

    in an “eternity” full of grief

    Each one of us is free to decide

    whether to follow God or a worldly path

    whether to be humble or full of pride

    whether to be full of Love or full of wrath

    The Righteous Judge keeps patiently

    inviting His children to choose wisely

    but most of us refuse blatantly

    to follow His Commandments very precisely

    He who will not hear, will feel .

    Rita Biesemans, December 12 2013, the Feast Day of “La Virgen de Guadalupe”

  • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz

    @ Regis. It’s not about gringos or Indians…. it’s about true Catholics, whatever color. Besides, Our Lady shows herself as white underneath the aborigine exterior.

  • Riki

    I have an exact copy of Our lady of Guadalupe’s imprint on Juan Diego’s Coat. I love especially the name Luz (Light) on her dress : indeed she is carrying Jesus the Light of the world. Not only that but in Israel the name of the city where Jacob had the dream of the ladder with angels going up and down to and from Heaven is actually LUZ and he renamed it Beit El the House of God (well she is the House of God). I love this.It’s in the details that God’s presence manifests itself. I went once to visit Mexico some 17/18 years ago and I’m very happy I did. My across the street neighbors had 6 pix of Our Lady of Guadalupe with flowers and candles in their garage open to believers. Prayers were said and a few men were dressed in Aztec Indians and performed what happened when Juan Diego got the vision. I really was amazed in this day of age that they openly showed their belief. I went to congratulate them. Riki

  • Riki


    Mary, Mystical City
    where Jesus, our Savior, resides
    look down on us with pity
    who are carried with the tides

    Will we ever fathom
    the greatness of Your being
    satan spitting his venom
    to prevent our souls from healing

    But You, God’s living Tabernacle
    are constantly pointing to Your Son
    to prevent us from sudden debacle
    to bring us the Victory already won

    We cry out to You, Oh Mystical City
    to pull us out of the dangerous sinkholes
    we are willing to be gritty
    to save our eternal souls

    Mary, our Mother spread Your Mantle over us to keep us safe in Your City.

    Rita Biesemans written 11-29-2013

  • Lori

    A friend of mine is there right now. She is a smart lady and would not go anywhere especially dangerous. Granted my last trip there was 15 years ago but I never encountered problems there. There are neighborhoods that you shouldn’t enter, just like there are neighborhoods here that you shouldn’t enter.

  • LizEst

    Our Lady of Guadalupe is also Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines as declared by Pius XI on July 16, 1935. That may account for the number of Asians your friend saw there. Perhaps many of those were Filippinos.

  • That Was Then

    Non-Americans feel the same about going to the gun-crazy U.S.A. Thought I should point that out, as a resident of a gun-shy country.

  • Cassie Wonderalke

    My hubby and I made a pilgrimage in 2004 for our 30th wedding anniversary. Our anniversary was in September but were not able to go until December. We were there for the 150th anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception and then were there for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was awesome! We would love to return one day. And…..someone said there is a bounty on American heads. I didn’t see that at all.

  • rr

    In the Philippines there are a few places dedicated to her. I get into a lot of discussions with Mexican friends saying we maintained her original colors in the Philippines because most of the images in Mexico have her in the more Nationalistic colors. Todos somos los hijos de Ella. Asi que no me quejo.. LOL

  • LizEst

    There is a beautiful three-part series on Our Lady of Guadalupe here: http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2013/12/10/juan-diego-lady-guadalupe-part-i-iii

  • CDville

    Correction: she is the patroness of the Americas, all the way up to the North Pole.

  • God Save America

    First and foremost, Patron Saint of Mexico.

  • padre marcos

    The claim is that the Shrine of OLG is the most visited Marian Shrine in the world. I have been there many times as a pilgrim / priest over the past 18 years and celebrated Mass in the Basilica and in the Chapel of Tepeyac. Like other places of pilgrimage, there are people there from all over the world. I believe that less people from the U.S.A. have traveled to Mexico as tourists / or pilgrims in the last few years with the regular reports of crime /violence. Actually, Mexico City has taken many steps to bolster security with special force police and cameras. I was there last year and was impressed. When I said that I was going to Mexico, some of our parishioners thought that I was going into the middle of a war zone. I heard similar things before I went to Israel.

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  • Kyle

    Actually, the same website mentions her as the patroness of the Americas. http://www.catholic.org/saints/patron.php?letter=A

    It does not say “First and Foremost” anywhere, although natives obviously live closer and have a great devotion to her.