One Family's Relationship with Guadalupe

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Monday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the Americas — and especially Mexico — the faithful celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 with pilgrimages, street fairs and parades. Commentator Ray Salazar says that the Virgin of Guadalupe has been important to his family throughout this past year.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Today, December 12th, is the Catholic Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. According to tradition, the olive-skinned virgin appeared before the Aztec Indian Juan Diego in 1531. He asked her for a sign that would serve as proof of her appearance. With winter approaching, she's believed to have shown him red roses, and her image was emblazoned on his cloak. In the Americas and especially Mexico, the faithful celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th with pilgrimages, street fairs and parades. In Mexico City, as many as five million people gather in her honor. Commentator Ray Salazar says that the Virgin of Guadalupe has been important to his family for much of this past year.

RAY SALAZAR:

I stopped believing in the Catholic Church for a few years, but I never stopped believing in La Virgen de Guadalupe. She's separate from scandal. She's brown, humble and, unlike the other saints who stare blankly past people requesting intervention at their plaster feet, La Virgen never looks away (technical difficulties) black lashes. Her original cloth image is enclosed behind bulletproof glass in Mexico City. Every December 12th, millions of Mexican Catholics serenade her and buy roses in her name.

I was 16 when I saw her in the Basilica on Tepeyacac Hill. People made their way down the long aisle on their knees. Worshipers around me were whispering appreciation. My grandmother was praying in a pew. I was staring at the image trying to figure out what to say and what to do.

But when my mother was diagnosed with cancer this summer I knew exactly what to ask for when I knelt in front of La Virgen at my church. My son and I were with her when she found out. I held her hands, the same hands I have, the hands my son inherited. When the doctor spoke, my mom folded over like a finger.

La Virgen has the power to unite people in a crisis. She was the organizing force behind the farm workers along with Cesar Chavez. She brings together educated Chicanas who might be skeptical about the church but never doubt the power of a brown-faced, pregnant saint. La Virgen is the single Mexican woman powerful enough to pull a European pope across an ocean.

Like La Virgen, my mother taught us to unite during desperate times. Now each person in my family has joined my mother in her fight. My youngest brother engages her in heart-to-heart conversations. My sister, a leukemia survivor, takes my mom to flea markets and grocery shopping. My other brother doesn't talk about it so my mom can focus on what's good. My father makes her oatmeal when she feels sick. That's my mother's quiet influence. Throughout her life she's taught us how to overcome controversy, desperation and doubt. La Virgen does the same. I see her now occasionally in alleys, concrete walls, ID bracelets, gold charms. I recognize the influence of her existence. La Virgen is one woman who changed the continent's perspective simply by existing.

This summer my mom inspired us to take a Sunday drive. We filled two vans and two cars and drove one hour west of Chicago to an outdoor shrine dedicated to La Virgen and Juan Diego. Underneath the sun, my mom stood before the image trying not to cry. My father ambled next to her and my siblings and I, accompanied by the spouses and grandchildren, all nine. Huddling around my mother, we all prayed silently, standing resolutely like roses.

NORRIS: Ray Salazar lives in Chicago.

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