The Virgin of Guadalupe and Pastoral Outreach in the Episcopal Church

by Kevin Sparrow, Certificate of Anglican Studies,  ’10 

The emergence of devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe in early modern Mexico shows a clear affirmation of place and culture operating within a robust Catholic identity. A similar dynamic may serve as a pastoral model for Latino congregations within the Episcopal Church to affirm cultural identity as well as speak to divine regard for concerns specific to their community.

The account of Juan Diego’s vision of Virgin of Guadalupe featured the lived concerns of native Mexicans in the period directly after the Aztec conquest The Virgin specifically states she is the compassionate mother for all people of Mexico. She declares “I am the compassionate mother of you. . . and of the other various people who love me, who cry out to me, who seek me, who trust me. There I will listen to their weeping and their sorrows in order to remedy and heal all their afflictions, miseries, and torments.” (The Story of Guadalupe, Sousa translation). Juan Diego’s account seeks to provide a sense of God’s favor to a people in a specific part of Mexico. Later texts expand that interpretation and give it a political connotation – the Virgin becomes a symbol not only of Mexico, but of faithful native people in all of South America within the context of a vibrant Catholicism.

Within the Episcopal Church, Guadalupe devotion can serve a dual purpose: it could provide a way of entrance for Latino people drawn to the Episcopal Church as well as a distinct mark of continuity with countries of origin. Likewise, within a larger cultural context, the Virgin as a symbol of Mexico is quite well known.  Increased devotional practices within the Episcopal context could serve as a reminder of the (increasing) diversity of the larger Episcopal Church.

Emphasis on the Virgin as a means of assistance for those in need has specific pastoral implications within the Episcopal tradition.  A connection can be made between the experience of societal dislocation after the conquest in Mexico and the physical and societal dislocation of immigrant communities in the United States. The Virgin suggest that she will, “will listen to their weeping and their sorrows in order to remedy and heal all their afflictions, miseries, and torments…” (The Story of Guadalupe, Sousa translation). As immigration remain important within Latino communities, the Episcopal Church could provide for devotion to the Virgin as an entrance into a pastoral response to immigrant communities as well as a sign of God’s abiding concern for the land and people of Mexico – even within a new and different cultural context.

While it is primarily a Roman Catholic devotion, the Episcopal Church – perhaps alone among Protestant churches – could provide an atmosphere where this devotion could flourish. Inclusion of images within the majority of Episcopal congregations is no longer controversial. To provide an image or shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe within a parish with a substantial Latino population is one way to allow for the devotion within the Episcopal Church in that it would be, at minimum, an image of Mary that provides an instant connection for Latino congregants.

The Episcopal Church could provide a pastoral space where a much closer identification with the Virgin and issues of justice could emerge through Episcopal Church’s understanding of sainthood and what constitutes an “official devotion.”  As the Episcopal Church does not include the apparition in its official liturgical calendar, any devotions would be by necessity local and by the permission of the bishop. This locality and “semi-official” status may allow local and pressing pastoral concerns to find specific identification with the Virgin of Guadalupe and her preference for the poor and needy. Such a freedom of identification was actually a component of the original account of the apparition and remains a hallmark of local celebration. This pastoral opportunity exists in connection with earlier traditions surrounding the Virgin, yet is specific to current lived concerns on one hand as well as the specific theological positions and polity of the Episcopal Church on the other.

Kevin Sparrow received his Certificate in Anglican Studies from CDSP in May 2010. He holds an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School and a BA from the University of the South. He has served as Director of Christian Formation at Christ Church, Somerville, MA. Most recently, Kevin taught English and NGO Capacity Building in the Republic of Georgia as a Peace Corps volunteer. He lives in Berkeley, CA and is a member of Holy Innocents’, San Francisco.

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