The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico 470 years ago was not an isolated event intended only for Indians, the Mexicans, or Mexican-Americans.
She is just as important today as she was centuries ago, and she is important for everyone, for she has been designated the patroness of all the Americas. When she appeared to the Indian Juan Diego in December 1531 there were no national boundaries in this hemisphere. The Rio Grande River, for example, was only a stream, and was not a boundary separating the United States and Mexico.
When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the hill of Tepeyac she heralded the beginning of a new era, a new civilization that would rise out of the ashes of the Indian civilization that had been destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. She gave birth to a new people the Mexican people.
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as a young maiden, a woman not violated, who resembled the Indians and who had not been violated by the Spaniards.
She also stands as a symbol of unity for all these struggling to leave a state of oppression to enter the state of being from human beings.
She is a mother, as she told Juan Diego, who is here to right the wrongs of her children, a mother who has heard the cry of her children and comes to remedy what is wrong, a mother who is with us in our struggle to liberate ourselves from sin and oppression.
The significance and importance of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe is derived especially from the period of time in which she appeared.
In the pre-Hispanic New World, the Indians has many gods, or "intermediary spirits," but there was one great spirit, or god beyond all the intermediary gods, named Omecihuatl.
That god, whose special color was turquoise, the predominant color of Our Lady of Guadalupe's mantle, was considered the one, powerful creating force.
That god was neither male, nor female, sometimes being represented by a male figure and sometimes by a female.
Those figures were often referred to by different names, as Catholics refer to the Blessed Mother under various titles: Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, etc.
The female figure of the supreme god was also known as the snake woman, a symbol of wisdom because the snake was a symbol of wisdom. That figure was also called Tonantzin, and represented a respected, loving mother.
The hill of Tepeyac, where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, was a sacred site, a place of pilgrimage even before the Spaniards and Christianity came, Tonantzin was venerated there as the mother of gods, the source of life, as a god who gave meaning, direction, and guidance to all life.
The relatively easy conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards was, in a sense, made possible for them by the Indians themselves.
Indian prophets had long been predicting the end of their civilization, the end of their era. And in addition, many other Indians disliked the Aztecs and felt that they had corrupted their religion, but that the god Quetzacoatl would return or send an emissary to bring them liberation and salvation.
So when the Spaniards arrived under Hernando Cortez many Indians accepted the conquerors as liberators or saviors and allied themselves with the conquistadores.
But most Indians soon saw that the Spaniards were not the expected liberators of Quetzacoalt. They had no scruples in killing people either in battle or simply to gain gold (one Indian chronicler said that the Spaniards went after gold like "hungry pigs").
In their conquest of the New World the Spaniards destroyed the temples of the Indians, killed many of the young men, and often violated the women.
At the time of the four apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, between Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, 1531, memories of the conquest the massacres, the destruction of the temples were still very much alive in the minds of the Indians.
They did not miss the important significance that Our Lady of Guadalupe, through an Indian, one of their own, had ordered the Spaniards represented by Bishop Juan Zumarraga what to do, to build a temple in her honor, to someone who resembled the Indian and not the Spaniard.
The site where the temple should be build also had great significance to the Indians because it was the place where they had worshipped the mother of gods.
Also, when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, she described herself as the Mother of the True God, of the one who created heaven and earth a description that also applied to the Indians' great god Omecihuatl.
So the Virgin who appeared at Tepeyac was associated with motherhood, with birth, with new life.
Their old life, their old civilization, an era, had ended their temples, their previous way of life destroyed and Our Lady of Guadalupe was bringing forth new life, a new people, a new era and a new civilization.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, of course, is a title given by the Spaniards. It was thought to have been given through a misunderstanding of Juan Diego's message. Our Lady naturally had spoken an Indian language to him, but the Spaniards, it is thought, believed he was using the word Guadalupe, the site of another shrine to the Blessed Mother of Spain.
Father Virgilio Elizondo, president of the Mexican American Cultural Center at San Antonio, has said that Our Lady of Guadalupe has shown that "out of the chaos and suffering of past years can come a new creation."
She is, he said, a living symbol of liberation, a mother to right wrongs and to "walk along with her children in their struggle for the fullness of human life."
And for the Mexican-American, the Chicanos who have suffered greatly Father Elizondo has added that she can also by a symbol of unity in their efforts to leave the state of oppression and enter the state of being free human beings.