Accompanying God of Fiesta
The Virgin of Guadalupe
In December 1531, when the peasant Juan Diego was walking in the hills outside Mexico City, he saw a vision of a lady surrounded by light. Speaking to him in Nahuatl, his own language, the lady asked that a church be built on that site. Juan Diego recognized the lady as the Virgin Mary, and told his story to the Archbishop, who told him to return to the site, and ask the lady for a sign to prove her identity. When he returned, Juan Diego saw the Virgin again, and she told him to gather flowers from the top of the hill. Although December is very late in the growing season for flowers to bloom, he found roses, which the Virgin arranged in his cloak. When he opened his cloak before the Archbishop, the flowers fell to the floor; in their place was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted on the fabric. The icon is now displayed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and is Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural image.
(1) The context: la lucha (meaning, the struggle): There are several Hispanic and Latino traditions in the U.S. But in each case, the European conquest of indigenous peoples (and the later American conquest of established Latino populations) led to oppression and domination, poverty and even death. The Christian religious vision brought to the New World by the Spaniards was medieval; it was profoundly sacramental and knew nothing of the division between secular and sacred. The mixing of Spanish Mediterranean traditions and spirituality with Amerindian and African traditions (Mestizaje) yielded (positively), a gift for celebration, strong connection to family, zest for life – and (negatively) passivity to injustice and machismo (oppression of women).
(2) Popular religion: The Latino people see God as Lo cotidiano (the God who walks beside us). Ideas about God come out of the people’s experience, not from church dogma. While Latinos participate joyfully in worship and visit sacred places, God is found in the community, not just in buildings or worship services.
(3) Doing theology latinamente: Latino theology began to develop in the 1970s; unlike liberation theology, which urges a call to fight against injustice, Latino theology emphasizes the faith held by the poor, the sensus fidelium. The Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin Mary) is a symbol of divine love present in the Latino world. (Perhaps she is also la codidiana, a visible sign of the Holy Spirit).
(4) God who accompanies: God is found in relationships. The community is the fundamental unit, not the individual, and community celebrations are paramount. Virgilio Elizondo identifies three principles of Latino theology: The Galilee principle (what humans reject, God chooses); the Jerusalem principle (God calls the rejected to confront the powers of this world); and the Resurrection principle (God will bring life out of suffering).
(5) God of Fiesta: Beauty reflects the presence of the divine; to be human and a child of God is to celebrate in art, music and dance.
(6) To the future: This is a young endeavor, not yet systematic theology; it is seeking to define the experience of Hispanic communities and their religious vision.