Monday, December 13, 2010

The Dueling Virgins

Yesterday, our church was visited by two Marys. Two Marys?? Of course, anyone even remotely connected to Hispanic ministry knows that one of them was Our Lady of Guadalupe. I wore my Guadalupe t-shirt for the occasion -- a t-shirt that also happens to be pink, the liturgical color of Gaudete Sunday (what the official Catholic Church thinks we were celebrating).

As we were waiting, I saw some brothers and sisters bring an image of the Virgin to the little altar they had assembled in the front of the church. It wasn't La Morenita. No. These folks had arranged to dedicate this Mass to the Virgin of Cotoca, a Bolivian Marian devotion from the Santa Cruz region that is technically supposed to be celebrated on December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception).

I had never heard of the Virgin of Cotoca but later learned that she was discovered inside a log by three humble field hands who had fled their master after being falsely accused of a murder they didn't commit. The field hands brought the Virgin back to their master when, after they prayed to Her, the real culprits were discovered. The Virgin went on to produce many more miracles. She is the patroness of the eastern part of Bolivia and has a shrine and even a Facebook page.

La Guadalupana, whose feast day really is on December 12th, had the place of honor right at the foot of the altar. Her image, painted by one of our young people, was carried in the opening procession by two children while the other children followed, carrying roses to offer to Her. Our choir director who, being Salvadoran, didn't have a stake in this "competition", programmed two opening hymns -- one to each Virgin. Before beginning the Mass, Fr. Joe looked with bemusement at the two Marys and quipped: "Well...at least they're not fighting!"

I don't know what happened later upstairs. Downstairs, with the children, we simply told the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I had never heard of Our Lady of Cotoca before yesterday and, in any case, Guadalupe was the Virgin who was named Patroness of the Americas so She is our common Madrecita.

These are the moments that make Hispanic ministry so fascinating to me. We are (more or less) monolinguistic and yet culturally diverse. If we are a Kingdom people, we will enjoy the richness of each other's faith traditions, learn from, and accommodate them without conflict. A Mexican Mary and a Bolivian Mary can peacefully co-exist at the foot of their Son, through Whom we are one people of God.

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