Wednesday of the Second Week


ZEC 2: 14-17 or RV 11: 19A; 12: 1-6A, 10AB

LK 1: 26-38


Like many Latinx and Chicanx Catholics, I grew up with images of the Virgen de Guadalupe all around me. Her image adorned the small altars in my grandmother’s home. She can be found hanging on the walls of many of the rooms in my parents’ home today. I have often remarked that in my house, and in my grandma’s house, la virgensita – as she was lovingly called by her – was revered more than any other spiritual figure including Christ. Why was her image as powerful as it was? Why do so many Latinx Catholics identify with her image and the story of her apparition to St. Juan Diego?

These are questions I continue to ponder today. These questions undergird mine and my students’ exploration of Chicanx Religious Identities in the course I teach by the same name. When I teach this class, my students are introduced to the horrors of Catholic Christianity as viewed through the histories of conquest and colonization in the Americas by European settlers in the 15th- and 16th-centuries. Students are forced to wrestle with this troubling history and disentangle that past from other ideas they learn about such as liberation theology and Catholic social teaching. They are confronted with thinking about how an institution that has caused and promoted violence and injustice, developed into one that (in at least some versions of its practice) promotes peace, justice, and the life and dignity of the human person (no qualifiers for what kind of human person!).

The Virgen de Guadalupe is an important figure for reflection on the messiness, ambiguity, and tension between these two seemingly opposite positions. As a mestiza, her embodiment is central to her image. Often called la morenita for her brown complexion, her melanin is the precise location of her liberatory possibilities. She represents the non-white human – the mixed and indigenous human, the oppressed and marginalized human, the forgotten and erased human. She is the embodiment of the hope that many have to see true justice and equity for those historically denied justice and equity. And yet, for many, she remains a symbol of a tradition that attempted to and succeeded in erasing particular populations from the earth. Still, for me, holding these two ideas in tension with one another is the beauty of la virgensita. Her embodiment and representation is a call to action for many Catholics the world over.

As Fr. Virgilio Elizondo has written, “Guadalupe…is here among us where and when we need her; she is always present to rehabilitate the broken, uplift the downtrodden, console the afflicted, accompany the lonely, and give life to the dying. She has been a source of energy and inspiration for many who have struggled for liberty and justice in the Americas: for Father Miguel Hidalgo, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Adelita Navarro, Samuel Ruiz, and for many others who have found their heroic strength for survival within her.” In this advent season, as people continue to suffer the many injustices of the world, I hope that la Virgen de Guadalupe helps us find heroic strength for survival in the struggle for liberty and justice. 

Peter Mena, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies