By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
OTTUMWA — A sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, prayerful and pregnant with the son of God, provided a visual focus for more than 1,100 Spanish-speaking Catholics attending a conference of the Diocese of Davenport Aug. 10.
Organizers chose the theme “Mary, full of grace,” for the conference at the Bridge View Center and the four speakers, all speaking in Spanish, emphasized the Blessed Mother’s role in leading the faithful to Jesus.
“How are you?” Bishop Hector Lopez Alvarado, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, asked the gathering the morning of the daylong conference. “We are blessed,” the audience responded in Spanish.
Bishop Alvarado described the conference as a preamble to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is Aug. 15. He talked about the preliminary plans to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing to a poor indigenous man named Juan Diego (Dec. 9, 1531) in a small village near Mexico City.
The bishop also provided a teaching on the phrase “Mary, full of grace.” Her willingness to say yes to God’s request to be the mother of Jesus wasn’t a privilege for her, but a privilege for all of humanity, the bishop said. He encouraged his audience to be close to Mary, to follow her example by being a people of faith in the world. He also invited everyone to take the opportunity to have their confessions heard by priests at the center for that purpose.
Building bridges, not walls
Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio welcomed the gathering to Ottumwa, a city of bridges, but not just physical bridges, “bridges of people,” he said in English. “We want you here in this country. We want you to continue to live here and work here. With all that is going on in this country, it’s important to remember the Gospel message of peace, justice and love,” the mayor continued. “The Blessed Virgin Mary is an inspiration to all of us.”
His comments generated applause as Father Rudolph Juarez, diocesan vicar for Hispanics, translated.Bridge View Center’s executive director Scott Hallgren reiterated the mayor’s point about the city’s role as a builder of bridges, not walls. “We’re all here to grow in our faith together.”
Msgr. Eduardo Chavez Sanchez, co-founder and rector of the Institute for Guadalupan Studies and canon of the Basilica of Guadalupe, energized, delighted and challenged the crowd with his presentation on Our Lady of Guadalupe. There weren’t any borders when Mary appeared to Juan Diego, he pointed out. At that time, multiple indigenous cultures made up what would become Mexico. Mary represented a mixture of those cultures. “We are all children of Mary,” he said, brothers and sisters with Christ. “God made her our mother.”
As the postulator of the cause for sainthood for St. Juan Diego, Msgr. Chavez has devoted years to the study of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the apparition at Tepeyac. He said Mary told Juan Diego, “Don’t be afraid; am I not your mother?”
Our Lady’s name
He explored the linguistic roots of “Mary” (from the Hebrew “Miryam”), which he said means to illuminate. She is not the light, but illuminates the light, which is Christ. The word Guadalupe, he said, is Arabic, and means riverbed. Mary is not the river, but the riverbed. Christ is the river. Jesus Christ, in the center of her womb, is the center of the holy house that she asked Juan Diego to have built.
As tradition holds, at her instruction, Juan Diego gathered a bouquet of roses in his cloak and presented them to his bishop. When the roses were removed an image of Mary appeared on the cloak, the sign that the bishop needed to believe the apparition and to honor the request.
Today, “it has to be you who take the roses,” Msgr. Chavez said.
His message about Mary as the mother of all resonated with Prince of Peace-Clinton parishioners Gloria Marcos, her mother, Esperanza Teles, and their friend, Carmen Soesbe.
“She’s always with us,” Marcos said. “She’s with us in all our pain, all our suffering. She’s always with us,” added Soesbe. Teles especially appreciated the call that “we should all build a house together, and that house is Jesus’ house.”
Fernando Casanova, the third speaker, a well-known Catholic apologist, shared with the audience the significance of the Eucharist in his conversion story. The former Protestant preacher also talked about the importance of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation history. His presentation began on a somber note, as he mentioned that his son had recently been injured in a serious accident. But Casanova, a native of Puerto Rico, felt compelled to give his presentation in Ottumwa.
Evangelizing from within
His message inspired Adrian Arellano of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, who gave a short presentation at the start of the conference. He said he was drawn to Casanova and how he was converted by the Eucharist and that he accepted Mary’s role in the Catholic Church. Arellano, who serves as a lay Hispanic minster for the Davenport Diocese, said he knows that most Protestants have difficulty accepting Mary’s role in the church.
But Arellano said he also worries that too many Catholics within the church don’t have a solid education in their faith. “Pope Francis has told us to go out of the church and talk to people, but I ask myself: ‘How can I go out when our church needs to be evangelized from within?’”
He sees great value in promoting pilgrimages and classes, such as the Spanish Ministry Formation Program of which he is a recent graduate.
Don Manuel Capetillo, the fourth speaker, focused on the power of the rosary. Mexico is really in trouble, he told his audience. He has an ambitious goal of drawing 12 million people to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Our Lady’s feast day, Dec. 12, to pray for Mexico.
Mary leads all to Christ
Maria Calderon of St. Mary Parish in Moline, Ill., and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Silvis, Ill., said Capetillo’s talk deeply moved her. She especially appreciated his story about how his young daughter, terrified during an earthquake in Mexico, agreed to pray the rosary with her dad. He believed the Blessed Virgin Mary’s message that families who pray together will be blessed together. Like the speaker, Calderon has dreamed about Mary, and now prays the rosary in her car to keep the Blessed Virgin Mother and Jesus present in her daily life.
Conference participants also found inspiration in the enthusiastic dancing of youths who make up the Danza de Fe of St. Mary Parish-Davenport and in the music provided by the music ministry team of the Diocese of Davenport. Hispanic lay ministers Arellano and Pedro Niera of Iowa City motivated them and they reflected in prayer with José Cardenas who is the leader of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Prayer in Region IX.
Bishop Alvarado presided at Mass. Bishop Thomas Zinkula and several priests concelebrated. Just before Mass, Bishop Zinkula also heard confessions. The music group Jesed performed in concert after Mass, giving thanks to Mary, who leads all to Christ.
“We have lived the experience of Tepeyac,” said Miguel Moreno, coordinator of Multicultural Ministry for the Davenport Diocese. “Mary is engraved in the heart of each believer, to make known to the world that God is living and always present.”