The Pilgrimage of the Silver Rose
2/1/2015Andrew J. Matt
In a powerful expression of Marian devotion and intercontinental unity, a Knights of Columbus Silver Rose was presented to Pope Francis at the conclusion of a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica celebrated in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12, 2014. Cardinal Norberto Rivera, archbishop of Mexico City and a member of the Knights, was among the concelebrants.
The Holy Father received the silver rose from Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, postulator of the cause for canonization of St. Juan Diego and a canon of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, at the symbolic culmination of the 55th annual Silver Rose program. Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, who was also present at the Mass with his wife, Dorian, and other K of C representatives, had asked Msgr. Chávez to present the rose to Pope Francis on behalf of the Order.
Since 1960, the Silver Rose program, originally called Operation Rose, has gathered Knights and Columbian Squires from Mexico, the United States and Canada under the mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas. In the mid-1990s, it was adopted as a Supreme Council initiative, which grew to encompass multiple pilgrimage routes and reaffirm the Order’s commitment to the sanctity of human life.
Before arriving in Rome in December, the silver rose had undertaken a remarkable 9,000-mile pilgrimage. Starting in British Columbia April 27, 2014, Knights and Squires transported the rose south through the United States to El Paso, Texas, crossing the Mexican border into Ciudad Juárez Nov. 2. For the first time, a silver rose was brought not to the Old Basilica of Guadalupe in Monterrey, but to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, near the site of the apparitions to St. Juan Diego in December 1531.
On Nov. 30, the day after the rose’s arrival, pilgrims gathered to welcome the silver rose into the basilica. In a unique procession before Mass, the silver rose was carried along the same route that St. Juan Diego walked from his home in Tulpetlac to Tepeyac Hill. The rose then entered the basilica and was placed at the feet of the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
On Dec. 7, another eucharistic celebration marked the silver rose’s departure for Rome, where it would be presented to Pope Francis at a pontifical Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
During his homily Dec. 12, Pope Francis recalled the events surrounding Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparitions to St. Juan Diego. He called the Virgin Mary “the great missionary who brought the Gospel to our Americas” through her “visitation” as a pregnant mestiza, a woman of mixed race, on Mexico’s Tepeyac Hill.
“It was as though ‘a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,’” the pope added, quoting Revelation 12:1. “Taking upon herself the cultural and religious symbolism of the indigenous peoples, she proclaimed and gave her Son to all these new peoples.”
As a result of her encounters with the lay convert Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin and related events including the winter roses she asked him to gather and the miraculous image that was imprinted on his tilma after he presented the roses to his bishop an unprecedented cultural transformation took place.
“Through her intercession,” Pope Francis said, “the Christian faith began to grow into the most precious treasure of the soul of the American peoples” and now “spans from Alaska to Patagonia.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Msgr. Chávez climbed the stairs leading to St. Peter’s high altar.
“It suddenly struck me like a bolt of lightning,” Msgr. Chávez later recalled. “Am I going to bring this rose before the Bishop of Rome like St. Juan Diego did with Bishop Juan de Zumárraga?”
Presenting the silver rose, Msgr. Chávez addressed Pope Francis:
“Your Holiness, thanks to the Knights of Columbus, this silver rose has been taken on pilgrimage from Canada, the United States and Mexico; it has traveled to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe and has continued its pilgrimage here to Rome. This rose has collected the sadness and suffering, the pain and weariness of so many of our brothers and sisters, but also their joys and hopes. It is true, Holy Father, God wished to come live among us through Holy Mary of Guadalupe, and this rose is the sign. Please receive it.”
Pope Francis then smiled and kissed the rose. He said “yes” with a nod of his head and then asked Msgr. Chávez to pray for him.
“The smile of Pope Francis was incredible,” Msgr. Chávez later said, reflecting on the encounter. “I will never forget his smile, his kissing of the silver rose, and how he looked at me. His eyes were wide open, especially when he understood that the words I had spoken were reminiscent of St. Juan Diego’s own words.”
ANDREW J. MATT is managing editor of Columbia.