Learning hope from Mexico

Archbishop Aquila

This past week Pope Francis visited Mexico. As I read his messages, it became clear to me that his insights also apply to the United States, in particular, his reflections on hope amidst great difficulty.

How often have we heard in our political discourse these last several months, ‘Our country isn’t what it should be.’ or ‘We don’t win anymore.’? We’ve also experienced the tragedies of Kalamazoo, San Bernadino, Newtown, and the list goes on. In other words, the struggles that we face in the U.S. are more similar than they are different. That’s why the Pope’s focus on hope and its true source is something to which all of us should pay attention.

The first thing that he did upon arriving in Mexico was to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which he said was the central point of his visit. Reflecting back on his visit, the Holy Father said on Feb. 21, “To remain in silence before the image of the Mother was what I intended first of all.”

After 20 minutes of quiet prayer, he celebrated Mass before the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He preached about how the same Mary who walked the paths of Judea and Galilee to help her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, also made herself present to the suffering people of the Americas through her appearance to St. Juan Diego.

When Mary appeared to him, she brought hope to a person who regarded himself as “worthless.” “On that morning,” the Pope said, “Juancito experienced in his own life what hope is, what the mercy of God is. He was chosen to oversee, care for, protect and promote the building of this Shrine.”

We usually think of a shrine as a building, but the Holy Father expanded that idea, saying, “God’s Shrine is the life of his children, of everyone in any condition,” including, for example, the youth, the elderly, and families in need of healing. Our Lady of Guadalupe says to each of us as she did St. Juan Diego, “Am I not your mother?”

When I think of young people who have become disillusioned with the empty promises of materialism and feel alone, of the elderly who feel abandoned or like they are a burden, or of families that are in need of forgiveness, I hear Our Lady saying, “Am I not your mother? Am I not here?” This is the source of our hope. We know that Mary is our mother and is ready to lead us to Jesus her son.

At his meeting with young people, the Pope heard about how many young Mexicans feel like they don’t have a future, like they are condemned to a life filled with violence and crime, one where dreaming is not possible.

Their essential message to him was: “all of us can live, but we cannot live without hope.”

We, too, are hit with the ravages of violence. Most places in the U.S. don’t experience drug cartel violence like Mexico does, but we are plagued by other forms of violence like mass shootings, acts of terrorism, crime and a society that supports the drug industry.

Pope Francis responded to the youth’s request for a word of hope by saying, “the one word I have to give you, which is the foundation of everything, is Jesus Christ.”

“When everything seems too much, when it seems that the world is crashing down on you, embrace his Cross, draw close to him and please, never let go of his hand, even if they are dragging you; and, if you should fall, allow him to lift you up.”

So many of the problems our country is faced with today could be solved if Jesus Christ was truly the Lord of each of our lives. Faith in Christ gives us hope and from that hope comes charity toward one another. Only Christ, who made us for himself, can bring about true conversion and peace in society. He is the cure for the isolation, indifference and coldness that are so common today.

As he was preparing to leave Mexico and fly back to Rome, Pope Francis made a comment that I have not heard him make anywhere else. He said, “I assure you, that on some occasions, as I passed by, I felt I wanted to cry on seeing so much hope among people who suffer so much.” Hope was visible on the suffering faces of the Mexican faithful who gathered to bid him farewell.

From the gift of faith comes hope and from those two virtues grows charity – the love of God and neighbor. At the center of the faith of Mexico stands the miraculous appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who sowed the virtues of faith, hope and love in its soil. Let us pray that through her intercession God will increase our faith, so that we can have hope in him, even though we might suffer, and allow God who is love to fill our hearts so that our land may be transformed!

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, pray for us!

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”