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Marist Bulletin - Number 111


Hugo Rivera Herrera Marist Brother and specialist in the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Br. Lluís Serra

Brother Hugo Rivera Herrera, 65, was born in Hercules, in the State of Querétaro, Mexico. He’s earned a Masters degree in English, and a Licentiate in Spiritual Theology from the Carmelites’ Teresianum University in Rome; has worked in formation programs, campus ministry, and education; and spent four years in the Province of Venezuela. His book, Presencia de Santa María de Guadalupe en el pueblo mexicano, is based on his many years of research into this topic. At the present time Hugo is Director General of the Marist secondary school in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

What led you to do research on Our Lady of Guadalupe for Your university degree?

Prior to the apparitions the Aztecs believed in a goddess named Tonantzin, which means Venerable Mother. They put their faith in her because for them women ranked higher than men.

Are you saying they lived in a matriarchal society?
Really – they considered the role of the mother so important that they based the genealogical construct of their gods on a philosophical idea called In-tonan-in-tota, meaning mother-and-father. This implies that in the true god of the Aztec people, Ometeotl, there existed a duality – translated as “Two god,” i.e., mother and father.

Today many Christian theologians, including the Pope himself, speak of God in terms of father and mother. So don’t we have two closely related views of God here?
When I was studying theology in Rome, I remember listening to a catechesis by Pope John Paul I in which he said, “God is Father, and even more so Mother.” Among the Aztecs, the mother had greater importance than the father. That’s why evangelizing them was made easier when Our Lady of Guadalupe entered the country’s history.

In your view how does this Aztec culture relate to Our Lady of Guadalupe?
The missionaries had no use for several fundamental beliefs the Aztecs held about their gods because they didn’t understand them. No matter – Our Lady of Guadalupe reclaimed them: 1) Tloque nahuaque, meaning owner of everything around, which is the wording she used in speaking with the Aztec Juan Diego, “I want a temple built for me right here.” 2) Ipalnemohuani, meaning the one for whom you live. Again, Our Lady of Guadalupe reclaims both aspects of this expression when she says, “Am I not here, your Mother? …What more could you ask for? 3) In Xóchitl in Cuícatl, meaning flower and song – the dark-skinned Lady will appear on Tepeyácatl (Nose Hill, where Tonantzin was venerated) and make known her presence by means of flowers, the symbols of truth.

…Neat-sounding expressions. What language?
Náhuatl – the people’s local language. It’s still in use today throughout central Mexico.

Who play the main roles in the mystery of Guadalupe?
Four people are at the center of the drama, similar to the Evangelists. The star is Juan Diego – his name in Náhuatl is Cuautlatoatzin, a talking eagle and his role would correspond with that of John the Evangelist. The second person involved is Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino, who was dying – Our Lady appeared to him and cured him then and there. The Franciscan Juan de Zumárraga, the first Bishop of Mexico, is the one who spoke with local people about the appearances of this Lady. However, since he couldn’t speak Náhuatl, he needed his nephew, Father Juan González, to be his interpreter.

You’re talking to me about four people named John…
Just as St. John was the beloved disciple of Jesús, these four people named John became very much loved by Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I’m intrigued by the woman’s face… Is she a Native American or a Spaniard?
Mexico was conquered in 1521, and the Aztec people were so downtrodden the Mother of God could wait no longer – she appeared in 1531. History reveals that the children born of violence and brutality became a new people, the Mestizo race, which both the Spaniards and the Aztecs were to shun. The Aztecs severely punished the rape of women – both the woman and her child were banished from their homeland. And so Our Lady of Guadalupe chose the face of a Mestizo woman to help the poor understand that she is the bearer of the true God for whom people live.

Wow, this is dynamite… If I understand what you’re saying, believing in the message from Our Lady of Guadalupe involves preferring to be among the poor, the marginalized, battered women… am I right?
Absolutely. Today’s liberation theology falls far short of the mark when compared with the choice of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is Patroness of the Americas… Wouldn’t what you’ve just told me explain the great devotion expressed by countless people engulfed in poverty and suffering when they identify with Mary?
The Shrine of Guadalupe is one of the most visited, not only in Latin America but the entire world. When you go there, you see that the poor are the ones most in evidence. Our Lady in her dialog with the Aztec Juan Diego told him: “Am I not here, your Mother? Don’t you know I’m taking care of all your needs?” These expressions have been inscribed in the heart of every Mexican. That is why John Paul II, during his first visit to Mexico, said he learned that 90% of the people were Catholic, but 100% Guadalupanos.

So how do you link devotion to Mary with social commitment?
The Mexican Bishops addressed a letter to the Mexican people in which they expressed this urgent need to translate devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe into a Christ-centered commitment to society, one in which we share our assets.

How do the Marist brothers in Mexico practice devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe?
The presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the maternal face of God, means we don’t just have an intimate love for the Mother of God but also a deep desire to imitate her loving care for those most in need, which was her ardent wish. This is why both Provinces in Mexico have set up educational missions among the people in Chiapas and the Tarahumara in Chihuahua, in addition to several insertion communities among the poor.

By the way, before we conclude - where does the word Guadalupe come from?
In researching this, I’ve learned that the term Guadalupe is a misnomer – the word is derived from a combination of Arabic and Latin roots. Guada is the Arabic word for river, and lupe comes from lupus, wolf. Confusion entered in because the interpreter, Father Juan González, as well as the Bishop, Juan de Zumárraga and the rest of the Franciscan missionaries came from a Monastery in Extremadura (at that time called the monastery of Guadalupe) where people venerated a small statue of Our Lady, about a foot high, holding the child Jesus, about 3-4 inches in size. The statue had been discovered in a cave (where wolves used to spend the night) alongside a river, and thats why the Prior of the Extremaduran monastery christened it with a name derived from both Arabic and Latin: GUADALUPE. GUADA is the Arabic word for river, and LUPE is Latin for wolf. Thus the complete translation: WOLF RIVER.
When St. Juan Diego tried to explain to Bishop Zumárraga that the LADY FROM HEAVEN - COATLAXOPEH - was appearing to him, Father Juan González, the Bishops interpreter, heard a name (phonetically, something akin to CUATLASHOPAY) that resembled GUADALUPE - and thats why the title GUADALUPE remains with us today.

Then what expression did the Aztecs use?
They called Mary Coatlaxopeh, (phonetic approximation: Cua-tla-zho-pay) meaning “the one who crushed the snake.” This brings us back to the Book of Genesis when Yahweh told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman… and (her offspring) will strike at your head…” (Gn 3, 15)
For Mexicans, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the genesis of their new faith.

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