On her diplomatic trip to México last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid an unexpected visit to the basilica wherein resides the visage of la Vírgen–I mean the Virgin–Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As reported by the Catholic News Agency (and everybody else in the Spanish-speaking world), Clinton visited the shrine and asked the basilica’s rector, Msgr. Diego Monroy, “Who painted it?” The surprised priest replied, “God!”
The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is perhaps the most well-known and culturally significant in all of Latin America. Certainly this is the case in Mexico, where she is the de facto “patroness saint” of the nation. From the northern border of our southern neighbor to the tip of Chile, most nations in Latin America worship some version of the “Virgin Mother.”
As the story is told, a young indio is on the hill called Tepeyec (in the former capitol of the “Aztec Empire”) where he is visited by an apparition of the Virgin (the mother of God). She has a message for him and the folks down below, and—yadda, yadda, yadda—to prove it, she makes roses grow on the hillside even though they are out of season. The young man—named Juan Diego—collects the roses in his sarape and carries them down to the disbelieving priests below. When he unfurled his sarape, sending the roses to the ground, upon it was the image of the Virgin Mother.
Old Mexican ladies will often tell you how scientists have done tests on it and they can’t figure out what the image is made of. “It’s certainly not painted,” they’ll say. They’ll tell you how the most advanced microscopes have been used to find that inside of her eyes is the exact image you can see on Juan Diego’s cloak, and inside of those, the same. They’ll tell you how people have been healed by merely looking in its direction, and how she rewards her faithful (many of whom you can see climbing the hill, while praying the rosary, on their knees!). Every Mexican home I have ever been into has at least one picture of her hanging and one statuette for good measure. In my house, we had one in each bedroom.
This is big, huuuuuuuuge Mexican stuff. And, while I’m happy Clinton helped us pony-up to our role in the drug war now plaguing Mexico, it might have been nice for her team to have given her the heads up on Our Lady.
I’m just saying…