At the conclusion of a votive Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Aug. 3 at the 129th Supreme Convention in Denver, the Knights of Columbus launched a new Marian Prayer Program. The choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception sang Totus Tuus, a choral work dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as state deputies processed toward the altar carrying large, framed images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Hundreds of copies of the image have been distributed and will be used for a two-year prayer program in which local councils will organize special prayer services at churches and other locations. The first year of the program will culminate with the second international Guadalupe Festival, scheduled to take place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Aug. 4, 2012, immediately prior to the 130th Supreme Convention in Anaheim, Calif.
Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, postulator for the cause of canonization of St. Juan Diego and canon of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, introduced the program and explained the uniqueness of the images. He said that the images held by the state deputies received a papal blessing and was touched to the original, miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Moreover, each bears the signature of the rector of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and was sealed with soil from Mexico’s Tepeyac Hill, where Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego in 1531.
“My brother Knights, nearly 500 years later, you are now called, like St. Juan Diego, to be heralds of the new evangelization, carrying Our Lady’s beautiful image and message of love far and wide in all your jurisdictions,” said Msgr. Chávez, who is a member of Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe Council 14138.
Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., then offered a prayer of commissioning, and the state deputies raised the images as the assembly joined in singing Salve Regina.
Before the final blessing, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Major Penitentiary Emeritus and principal celebrant of the Mass, called the prayer program “one of the most moving and challenging tasks that I have seen given to the laity.” After serving as archbishop of Denver for 10 years, Cardinal Stafford served as president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1996-2003.
“Dear brothers, this challenge is to become the royal priesthood of the laity,” the cardinal added. “God bless you for this wonderful, wonderful challenge that you have been willing to accept.”
This two-year prayer program is the 15th initiative of its kind since the Order’s first Marian Hour of Prayer in 1979. Most of the past programs have honored the Blessed Mother under various titles, including the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Czéstochowa and, most recently, Our Lady of Charity. These Orderwide programs have also brought some 14 million people together for more than 100,000 prayer services.
The last time the Knights of Columbus launched a prayer program dedicated to Mary under her title Our Lady of Guadalupe was in 2000, a year after Pope John Paul II released his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, in which he invoked the Virgin of Guadalupe as the “Mother and Evangelizer of America.” When Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson and other officers were later installed in ceremonies at the basilica in Mexico City in February 2001, the supreme knight and then-Supreme Chaplain Bishop Thomas V. Daily led those in attendance in consecrating the Order to the care of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the evening before the current Marian Prayer Program was launched, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican, reflected on the meaning of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparitions and message. During his keynote address at the States Dinner, he described the cultural environment during the time of Our Lady’s apparitions from Dec. 9-12, 1531.
“Our Lady appeared on the continent of America at a time when many men were drifting from God and his life-giving law,” explained Cardinal Burke, a member of Bishops Council 10490 in St. Louis, Mo. “On the one hand, under a long and macabre leadership, the religion of the Native Americans, the Aztecs, was increasingly marked by a diabolical worship which demanded constant and mass human sacrifice. On the other hand, the arrival and activity of European explorers in the same territory had developed into a conflict between the Spanish and Native Americans, which threatened an increasingly massive destruction of human life and goods. In the context of so much and so great suffering and death, the Mother of God was sent to draw men once again to the one and only source of hope and life in the love and mercy of God the Father, made present in our midst by his incarnate Son.”
The appearance of the Virgin Mary to a humble Indian, a Christian convert named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, soon changed the face of the continent. Our Lady appeared as a mestiza, or mixed-race woman, who was pregnant with the Son of God. Mexico’s first bishop, Friar Juan de Zumárraga, and the native people comprehended the Gospel message contained in the symbol-rich image that was miraculously imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma, or cloak. And inspired by the message of divine love, some 9 million Native Americans were baptized from the time of the apparitions until the deaths of Bishop Zumárraga and Juan Diego in 1548.
Almost five centuries later, the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to inspire Christians not only in Mexico, but also throughout the Western Hemisphere.
In Ecclesia in America, which was written to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first evangelization of America and to prepare for the Jubilee Year 2000, John Paul II cited the widespread appeal of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The influence of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to St. Juan Diego, he noted, “greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole Continent. America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting-pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyec, ‘in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization.’ Consequently, not only in Central and South America, but in North America as well, the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated as Queen of all America” (11).
The universality of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message was demonstrated in 2003, when the Order sponsored a tour of a relic of St. Juan Diego’s tilma, and tens of thousands of people of numerous nationalities came to express their devotion. Likewise, more than 1,000 Knights and their families attended a Marian Congress dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which the Order co-sponsored with the Diocese of Phoenix and the Institute of Guadalupan Studies in August 2009.
Following the Marian Congress, a capacity crowd of more than 15,000 people participated in the first international Guadalupe Festival at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz. Building on the success of that event — which featured musical performances, speakers, the recitation of an international rosary and the solemn procession of the tilma relic — Knights hope to welcome tens of thousands of the faithful to the second international Guadalupe Festival in Los Angeles next August.
Yet, before then, a multitude of people will be participating in prayer services throughout K of C jurisdictions. As outlined in an official prayer booklet, each service will include readings, silent reflection, intercessions, the rosary and other prayers. The goal is to spread far and wide a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and an appreciation of the enduring relevance of the Guadalupan message.
“We live in no less troubled times which severely test our hope,” said Cardinal Burke in his States Dinner address. Citing moral relativism and various manifestations of a “culture of death” in the modern world, he added, “We are witnesses of a society in which, in many respects, morality has ceased to exist. We are called ever more urgently to the new evangelization of our culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe gives us hope, gives us Jesus Christ who alone brings us truth and freedom.”
For more information about the schedule of the Marian Prayer Program in your area, contact your Knights of Columbus state council.
Alton J. Pelowski is the managing editor of Columbia.
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