Bishop Rodriguez: The excitement of seeing the “Tilma” brings you to tears

Denver parishes celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodriguez referred to all those who have had the opportunity of visiting the Basilica of Guadalupe and passed under the “Tilma” of St. Juan Diego on the moving walkway: “I bet you had the same experience as I did: When you are standing beneath the image and you look at it, you are filled with such excitement that it brings you to tears.”

“Let’s ask ourselves why this happens,” he continued. “The excitement and urge to cry are of the same kind one feels for his own mother. They’re very strong sentiments that we don’t have for everyone.”

DENVER, CO, Dec. 10, 2017: The Parish-Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with Mass and a procession. (Photos by Janeth Chavez | Denver Catholic)

Bishop Rodriguez celebrated the Mass in honor of “La Lupita” (term of endearment for Guadalupe) on the vigil of her feast day Dec. 11, at the Parish-Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Hundreds of faithful came to pay tribute to the patroness of the Americas and awaited till midnight for this Marian feast to sing with mariachis the traditional song “Las mañanitas.”

Many arrived at the church hours in advance, awaiting the Eucharistic celebration. Despite the cold, many more chose to participate in the Mass through a projection shown in tents located outside the church.

As is the custom, on the following day the parish-shrine offered Masses at every hour – all very crowded – from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thus, the faithful celebrated devoutly the anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady to St. Juan Diego, in which her image was miraculously stamped on his cloth.

DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 11: Msgr. Bernie Schmitz reads the Gospel during the Vigil Mass in celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Joseph Catholic Church on December 11, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

A mother in heaven

“When mom is near, the child feels safe, protected. The mother always keeps her son under her watchful eye,” said Bishop Rodriguez. “‘La Morenita’” (‘dear tanned lady,’ as many Mexicans refer to her) felt that her children needed her and made herself present in a very close, tender and beautiful way.”

And while the indigenous people were considered valueless, Mary spoke in their language. “She appeared with tanned skin, when light skin was the one regarded with high status and lineage,” recounted the bishop. “The indigenous people realized that in their insignificance, poverty and degradation, they were loved by God, just as their mother came to tell them,” he assured.

“Jesus loved his mother infinitely more than we love our own – and oh don’t we love our mothers!” said Bishop Rodriguez. “That’s the kind of relationship Jesus wants us to have with his mother.”

DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 11: Vigil Mass in celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Joseph Catholic Church on December 11, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Meanwhile, Monsignor Bernard Schmitz, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Denver, celebrated an 11 p.m. Mass this Monday, in which he referred to the poor and simple, who like St. Juan Diego recur to the Virgin’s protection. “They are certainly the ones who live a material poverty,” he pointed out. “Others are poor in their suffering of a chronic illness or a divided family. Others live in poverty because they suffer from loneliness, many elderly people live in poverty due to a lack of company.”

Also speaking of this matter, Father Benito Hernandez, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe, highlighted during his homily at the 5 a.m. Mass celebrated this Tuesday, Dec. 12: “We cannot feel alone because she, our ‘Morenita’ from the Tepeyac, keeps us company wherever we go; in our battles and in our daily sufferings.”

DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 11: A traditional Mariachi Band plays following the Vigil Mass in celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Joseph Catholic Church on December 11, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic

A devotion from the homeland

Other parishes of northern Colorado also joined in celebrating the “Lupita.” Saint Michael the Archangel in Aurora had a celebration on Sunday, Dec. 10, beginning with a Rosary, a Sunday Mass followed by a serenade with mariachis to the Virgin and a reception containing a play of the apparitions by children.

“I had the opportunity to participate in something religious, as [the feast] of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Aldo Raidi, 10, a young parishioner of St. Michael Church who played Juan de Zumarraga, the bishop who asked Juan Diego for proof of the apparitions. “If I were the bishop, I would have believed St. Juan Diego the first time he told me he had seen the Virgin,” he said.

Kelsey, another church member, played the Virgin Mary. She believes that with this play, “we can teach the children who the Virgin Mary is.

“I have heard that there is a great feast for the Virgin in Mexico and I would like to go see it one day,” the young actress added.

Many adults were moved by the performance, remembering their childhood in Mexico, where this devotion was sown. “It’s a tradition that is deeply rooted [in us] and that comes from our grandparents,” said Rafael Dominguez, a layman from St. Michael’s. “It is an honor to celebrate [Our Lady of Guadalupe] in a country that is not your own, to be able to bring these practices and play a small part in supporting our community and celebrate with her.”

DENVER, CO, Dec. 10, 2017: St. Michael Parish in Denver celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with Mass and a reception afterwards. (Photos by Janeth Chavez | Denver Catholic)

Moreover, Laticia Lujan, another faithful parishioner, shared movingly how the “Morenita” interceded for a great family need: “I have a granddaughter who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 5. I prayed for the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe and she was cured. Since then, I venerate her every single year.”

Similarly, thousands of faithful Catholics from northern Colorado gathered around the Mother of God with songs, as “La Guadalupana” and “Buenos días paloma blanca,” and said the prayer with which Father Hernandez concluded his homily: “We ask you for the strength to do the will of God in our lives and may your Holy Mantle, Virgin of Guadalupe, accompany us [and] cover us with its love, now and forever.”

COMING UP: Celebrate and support the sacred gift of life

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Editor’s Note: This column is adapted from Archbishop Aquila’s remarks to the 2018 Celebrate Life March, which took place on January 13th in front of the Colorado State Capitol building.

As we gather today to celebrate life, we must remember three things: 1) life is a gift, 2) life is sacred, and 3) rebuilding a culture of life requires joy.

We are here today to celebrate our joy over the gift of life. Every minute and every day we live presents us with an abundance of gifts that seem mundane and are often overlooked: our health, the gift of creation, or something as simple as having food on our plates. Above all, we should give thanks for the gift of life!

As people involved in protecting life at every stage, the challenge we face is not just one of providing resources to mothers and fathers in need or ensuring people battling a terminal illness have good palliative care. Our challenge is to also communicate to them that they are loved, that their unborn child or their own lives are gifts, no matter the circumstances.

Many of us fought in 2016 to prevent doctor-assisted suicide from becoming legal in Colorado, and one person who helped in that effort was a courageous man named J.J. Hanson. J.J. was a Marine veteran and father of two young children who was working for a real estate investment firm in Florida when he found out he had glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. His doctors told him that it was a very aggressive cancer that meant he only had four months to live.

Despite his odds, J.J. resolved to fight. His motto was: “Every single day is a gift, and we can’t let that go.” What’s even more remarkable is the fact that J.J. dedicated his time and energy to fighting the legalization of assisted suicide around the country, all while undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. There was hardly a speaking engagement or trip to testify before a legislature that J.J. turned down. His conviction that life was a gift propelled him to defend that gift however he could. As pro-life people, we need to have that same conviction.

Just about two weeks ago, on December 30th, J.J. was called home to the Father – three years beyond what doctors told him to expect. St. Anthony of Padua church in upstate New York, where his funeral was held, was filled with people who paid tribute to how J.J. inspired them to embrace every moment of life, no matter its difficulties as a gift, not something to be thrown away.

All of us are called to embrace life as J.J. did, and in doing so we will help recover the culture of life that is being neglected or forgotten as people cast God and truth aside.

I have said that life is a gift, and while that is true, it’s more than that. Life is also sacred. Life is sacred because it comes from God, the God who is love and who has loved us first. Our lives are also sacred because our beings are made in God’s image and likeness.

We are called to participate in the love of God and to see that every human being, from the moment of conception until natural death, is invited into relationship with God. We are called to ensure that life is set aside for God, that it is honored and recognized as sacred.

The struggle for so many today is that they do not even believe in a god; their only god is themselves. They truly do not believe in the God who is love. And because of this limited worldview, a person’s life can lose its value if their “quality of life” declines.

In the words of Pope Francis to participants in the 2013 Day for Life, “All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”

When Jesus speaks about the Judgement of the Nations in Matthew 25, he tells us that life is always sacred by saying that when we love the weak and vulnerable, we are loving him.

The more that we can love the sacred gift of life and celebrate it with joy, the more we will contribute to building a true culture of life in the U.S.

A wonderful example of concretely loving the sacred gift of life is a story I recently heard about a 15-year-old Colorado teenager named Missy, who showed up with her parents at an abortion clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Missy was a sophomore in high school and was in her second trimester of pregnancy. As they approached the clinic, some pro-life volunteers who were parked nearby in a mobile crisis pregnancy van saw them and invited them inside. The volunteers learned that Missy wanted to complete high school and that this desire was pushing her to consider an abortion. One of the volunteers told Missy about how she was faced with the same choice as a teen and chose to keep her child. “It wasn’t easy, but it was amazing,” she reassured Missy.

Missy also worried about the father of the child not being around, to which her dad responded by taking her hand and saying, “I’ll be that man in your child’s life.”

This kind of accompaniment and willingness to heroically support the gift of life is vitally important to forming a culture that welcomes the unborn, the elderly, the disabled and the dying as a gift.

Building a culture of life begins by first receiving the love of the Father, who loves each of us as his sons and daughters. He never abandons us, even though we might abandon him or reject his love.

A culture of life grows when we share his love with others, helping them to embrace life as a gift and a joy, rather than a burden.

Life is a gift, it is sacred and our celebration of the joy of life helps build a culture of life.

I encourage you to be those who are unafraid to give witness to life. Be not afraid to give witness to life. Even though people might ridicule you, yell at you, or reject you, know that Jesus experienced it all so that you might have life, and life abundantly.

May God bless you and help you celebrate life in 2018!