by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This week the Catholic community marked two notable realities in the life of a major actor in salvation history, Mary of Nazareth. First on Tuesday the 8th, we celebrated her protection from all evil (her Immaculate Conception); and second, on Saturday the 12th, we mark her appearance on a hillside called Tepeyac in Guadalupe near Mexico City.
The belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception resides in the DNA of the Catholic faith community. Even today when it is not a major devotion of post-Vatican II Catholicism, we still hold dear that the divine choice of Mary to be the major agent of Christ’s humanity protected her from any taint of sin. We understand that tradition of her Immaculate Conception with all that it implies is very much an Advent story.
More accessible is the Guadalupe story. In the very early colonial period, so the story goes, a poor Mexican native heard beautiful sounds coming from a hill called Tepeyac, in Guadalupe near Mexico City. Following the sound, he sees a vision of a very lovely woman who told him that she was the Mother of the true God.
We say that the legend of “la Guadalupana” is accessible because, as liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez has pointed out, it holds a compelling and modern truth. Like practically every story of similar apparitions, the Virgen instructs the poorest to call on the most powerful to a specific action. Juan Diego, the Mexican Indian peasant, lowest of the low in the social strata of that time and place, must carry a message from the Virgen Mary to His Grace, Juan de Zumárraga, the powerful bishop of Mexico City. Gutierrez insists that this inversion of the prevailing social norms of the time reflects the prayer of the Immaculate One, “God has scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts, brought down the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly, filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away hungry” (Luke1:51-53). Mary reflects God’s preferential option for the poor. It engages us as never before. The event is also central to Advent.
“La Guadalupana”—and her understanding of God’s concern for the poor—has an equally urgent and specific message for the powerful today, equal to that delivered by little Juan Diego to His Grace, Juan de Zumárraga. As humanity begins to receive the benefits of the miraculous scientific achievement, a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the clear message is that it must be shared equitably with the 7.8 billion of us across the planet. Some are already asking if the vaccine will actually belong to all nations and be administered first to those places in the world which need it most. One immediately thinks of Haiti and Zimbabwe and situations like the refugee camp Lampedusa in Sicily, the children in detention centers on our Southern border—the list of these unprotected “hot spots” goes on and on.
We may not be able to do very much personally about this global moral challenge, which is a first and crucial test of humanity’s possibilities for a “new normal” of universal brother- and sisterhood. However, there are prominent individuals like Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres who are raising their voices in this regard. Weeks ago, the Pope set up a high-level Vatican commission to work with other national and international agencies for global equity in distributing the vaccine. Guterres warned this week, “Vaccine nationalism leaves the world’s poorest nations unable to secure COVID-19 vaccine.”
Surely as we move into this era of COVID-19 prevention, more and more voices will be raised in this regard. Pax Christi’s voice has to be among them in this greatest challenge ever to humanity.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.