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  • Writer's pictureIoana Belcea

Mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Updated: Jun 12

"Today we can say that...the Church in America is the Church of Hope. Therefore, the Church must proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the culture of death. May the Continent of Hope also be the Continent of Life! This is our cry: life with dignity for all! For all who have been conceived in their mother's womb, for street children, for Guadalupe!" Ecclesia in America, Apostolic exhortationHoly Father John Paul II

Venerated seemingly without interruption since 1531, having received a feast day with a divine office and stamping of the image in 1666, and having been proclaimed patron of Latin America in 1910, "Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines" in 1935, "Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas" in 1945, and "Patroness of the Americas", in 1946, Our Lady of Guadalupe has achieved in popular culture and devotion both the status of a 'dramatis persona' endowed by telling and retelling with a name and personality of its own, and an empty symbol to be filled with a multitude of realities foreign to itself.

Although I love the beauty of the nahuatl poem describing the apparition, the many beautiful interpretations of the original image painted over the centuries, the beautiful flower laden altars built around the image on December 12, her feast day, by the Latino communities with their exuberant and colorfully expressive enthusiasm, reading the Holy Father John Paul II's Apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America, gave me a much needed pause for thought. After-all, we are talking about the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, and it behooves us to remember this as we indulge our senses in the beauty of the image and let our emotions enrich our prayer life in her devotions.

Ecclesia in America is a document well worth reading, but here I will give only a short quote:

"How can we fail to emphasize the role which belongs to the Virgin Mary in relation to the pilgrim Church in America journeying towards its encounter with the Lord? Indeed, the Most Blessed Virgin “is linked in a special way to the birth of the Church in the history ... of the peoples of America; through Mary they came to encounter the Lord...Throughout the continent, from the time of the first evangelization, the presence of the Mother of God has been strongly felt, thanks to the efforts of the missionaries. In their preaching, “the Gospel was proclaimed by presenting the Virgin Mary as its highest realization. From the beginning — invoked as Our Lady of Guadalupe — Mary, by her motherly and merciful figure, was a great sign of the closeness of the Father and of Jesus Christ, with whom she invites us to enter into communion”.

It is this "encountering with the Lord", the entry into communion with God through Mary that I wanted to emphasize when I was commissioned to create a mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe for a crisis pregnancy center in Michigan.

Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego on the Tepeyac hill in a moment when Mexico was going through a terrible upheaval, and when in his personal life he was distraught by the fatal illness of his uncle.  She offered him the gift of roses (out of season at that time of year) and imprinted her image on his mantle in order to convince the bishop of the veracity of the apparition.  Ultimately, however, her apparition served to convert the Aztec people to Christ and to bring the wayward Spanish conquistadores back to a Christian life. It also brought solace to Juan Diego as Mary's intercession brought healing to the uncle.

I decided to represent Mary not recollected in contemplation as in the original image, but turned toward the viewer, actively engaging with her. I considered that the women entering the Center are all mothers at a crossroad, perhaps at the start of their journey of conversion, or at a moment of return to a lost faith, but certainly all in need of healing and consolation.

Saint John Paul II was a great advocate of "respect for and total dedication to human life from the moment of conception to that of natural death" condemning the evils of abortion and euthanasia, in 1999 giving to Our Lady of Guadalupe the title of "Protectress of Unborn Children". This, however, was part of a larger concern for the dignity of the human person, and especially for the dignity of women. He talks extensively about their intrinsic value, their value to society, and their human rights , placing special emphasis on the pastoral care of women in problem pregnancies, both before and after the birth of the child.

The role the Pregnancy Center has assumed is precisely that of protecting human life and upholding the dignity of the women. In this context, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is relevant. The women coming to the center by having freely chosen to protect the life of their child at great cost to themselves, have already embarked on a path of conversion. His Holiness John Paul II says that conversion is not a moment or an end in itself, but that it is " a journey toward God who is holy", a path to sanctification. "On the path of holiness, Jesus Christ is the point of reference and the model to be imitated: he is “the Holy One of God”, and was recognized as such. It is he who teaches us that the heart of holiness is love, which leads even to giving our lives for others."

In my interpretation of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I represent Mary bent forward offering roses to the viewer.  I want to recreate for the women coming to the center that moment on Tepeyac, with themselves in place of Juan Diego.  On their path toward holiness, I want them to experience the comfort of knowing that Mary is accompanying them, the roses representing all the graces with which God is blessing them.



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