The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Call to Environmental Justice: Part II

Amazon GuadalupeIn this second part of his reflection, Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM of Holy Name Province proposes Mary’s Magnificat as a model for environmental justice.

Responding as Mary did requires a series of commitments. I would like to use Mary’s song (the Magnificat in Lk 1:46-55) to suggest what those commitments entail. The first commitment is to seek to relate to others at a deeper level, following the example of Mary who visited her cousin Elizabeth. Our path of ecological conversion should lead us deeper into a web of relationships, especially with those who suffer most directly the consequences of ecological degradation and people who are actively engaged in climate justice. Those kinds of encounters nourish dynamic communities where the Gospel is applied to contemporary signs of the times and its power harnessed to transform a society.

Consider the encounter between Juan Diego and the Virgin Mary at Tepayac Hill. Juan Diego, known by his indigenous name as Cuauhtlatoatzin, meaning “eagle that speaks,” was transformed by his encounter with the dark-faced Mother of God. This transformation compelled him to carry the message of the Gospel first to the bishop and then to the indigenous peoples who were bowed down and on the verge of collective despair.

The second commitment that Mary invites us to through her Magnificat song is to recognize and celebrate what God is doing for each one of us and for the world. It calls us to be men and women with eyes open to how God is active in our private and communal lives. Mary does so in her Magnificat when she exults in what God is doing for her and for Israel. In a similar fashion, the 16th-century narrative of the Guadalupe apparitions is a story of divine intervention in the lives of the native peoples, whose collective despair was transformed by the sudden infusion of hope.

Note that at the time when the very humanity of the indigenous people was questioned and often denied, Our Lady of Guadalupe addressed the native man by his name. For the indigenous people, the way the Mother of God held her hands together signified attentive listening. The eight-petaled flowers seen on the Virgin’s tunic indicated to the native people the dawn of a new age of harmony in the universe.

The third commitment that Mary invites us to is building a civilization of love: a world that is more just, peaceful, loving and sustainable. Mary’s song celebrates not individual acts of charity but God’s work of restructuring the society. Mary sings of “God who has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly,” “has filled the hungry with good things” and sent “the rich…away empty.” There are political and economic implications to the Gospel message that are beyond individual, moral ethics.

To build a civilization of love includes delving into a social and political analysis of the current environmental crisis and challenging the powers and dominions that keep us on the same, dead-end trajectory.  One’s commitment to taking part in creating a civilization of love necessitates a willingness to raise critical questions: Who profits financially from environmental degradation? How do we as a Church respond to those who frame concerns about jobs and the economy on one hand and the environment on the other as a zero-sum game?

In the Guadalupe event, we see a powerful illustration of a commitment to building a civilization of love.  The Virgin Mother of God tells Juan Diego, a completely marginalized man with no power, to go to the bishop, the representative of the powerful institutional Church, and request that a temple by built. The location where it was to happen is also significant: not in the center of the city where political and ecclesial power was concentrated, but rather on the hill of Tepeyac, the periphery of the great city where many of the poor and disenfranchised lived. For the indigenous peoples, the construction of a new temple marked the inauguration of a new civilization. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin – “Eagle that speaks” – was sent out by the dark-faced Mother of God as a messenger of a new civilization.

If you travel to Mexico City, you can visit the Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and witness thousands of people experiencing God’s great love through the image imprinted on Juan Diego’s cloak. However, the call Our Lady of Guadalupe made to Juan Diego to build her a temple is not yet fully realized. It is because the true temple that She desires is the earth that more truly reflects the beauty, justice and goodness of God.

This mission that the Mother of God entrusted to Juan Diego echoes the call St. Francis of Assisi received when he prayed at the church of San Damiano: “Francis, rebuild my house that is falling into ruins.” One of the causes of ruin today is the dominant worldview of society and institutions that have lost sight of the transcendent and which have reduced human beings to buying machines and God’s creation to raw material to satisfy our unrestrained desire for material things.

Thatched Amazon GlobeIndigenous communities are generally far more in touch with the interconnectedness of the web of life.  Their perceptions and desires are more attuned to what Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God and in the Beatitudes. Drawing from the words of John Paul II, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church affirms that:

“The relationship of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources deserves particular attention, since it is a fundamental expression of their identity…. The rights of indigenous peoples must be appropriately protected. These peoples offer an example of a life lived in harmony with the environment that they have come to know well and to preserve. Their extraordinary experience, which is an irreplaceable resource for all humanity, runs the risk of being lost together with the environment from which they originate.” (471)

Indigenous People in the AmazonThe indigenous communities in the Amazon urgently need our solidarity. The Javari Valley in the western part of the Brazilian Amazon has the highest concentration of isolated indigenous peoples in South America. Due to disease and lack of assistance, these native communities are on the verge of extinction: 87 percent of the population has Hepatitis A, and 69 percent have Hepatitis B or other serious illnesses. The largest group of victims is children under 14 years old, who are more than 50 percent of the cases. Through the Franciscan Amazon Project, poor indigenous communities could be more involved and empowered to help our society better understand what it means to be human.

Almost 500 years ago, when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico as a very young mestiza, she clearly identified herself with those who were most despised, ostracized and rejected in that society.  Today, the Mother of God challenges us to identify with some of the most marginalized people on our American continent: the indigenous people of the Amazon. When we allow them to touch our lives and teach us, they may help us to open our eyes to a grace-filled, wondrous world. As with Juan Diego, we will hear a divine call to build God’s temple of love, peace and environmental justice, a New Jerusalem whose light will come and whose glory and delight we will see within all creation.

Virgin de GuadalupeO God, Father of mercies,
who placed your people under the singular protection
of your Son’s most holy Mother,
grant that all who invoke the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe,
may seek with ever more lively faith
the progress of peoples in the ways of justice and of peace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Published in: on December 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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