Msgr. Eduardo Chávez poses with a group of devotees of the Virgin of Guadalupe at the end of the first Guadalupano meeting, held at The Grotto this fall. Hundreds of Northwest Hispanics attended. (Patricia Montana/El Centinela)
Msgr. Eduardo Chávez poses with a group of devotees of the Virgin of Guadalupe at the end of the first Guadalupano meeting, held at The Grotto this fall. Hundreds of Northwest Hispanics attended. (Patricia Montana/El Centinela)
María Del Carmen Tapia remembers Dec. 11 during her childhood in Veracruz, Mexico. Late on the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, she and her family would go to church and stay into the wee hours praying and singing enthusiastically to their beloved virgin.

“The next day, we walked in procession, a long journey back to the church,” Del Carmen recalled. People decorated their cars and the faithful carried large floral arrangements.

It all came back to Del Carmen as she attended a fall Guadalupe retreat at The Grotto in Northeast Portland and felt a ray of Mary’s light enter her heart. “The Virgin was present there with us,” she said.

Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, postulator of the cause of canonization for St. Juan Diego and rector of the Guadalupano studies program for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, led the Guadalupe Encounter with fervor for hundreds of faithful. The Knights of Columbus and partners organized the day, which was held largely in the open air even though it was cool and cloudy.

Music was provided by the group Joshua 24:15, directed by Deacon Félix García, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Portland. Participants came from as far as Seattle and Pendleton.

Archbishop Alexander Sample sent a statement in Spanish thanking the Knights and offering a blessing. “I hope this Guadalupano Encounter will renew your faith, inspire your hope and encourage you to grow in charity while listening again and learning about this incredible appearance of the Mother of God to San Juan Diego,” the archbishop said. “I also hope that, by reflecting on the apparitions of the Virgin and her tender words, she will be able to meet her son, Jesus Christ.”

Norma Martínez, leader of Worldwide Marriage Encounter in Oregon, clung to Guadalupe because the Virgin gets credit for saving her father’s life. Working building roads in Ecuador, he was caught in a landslide and was about to die. Even though he was not a religious man, he called out to Our Lady of Guadalupe and a huge stone stopped his vehicle from tumbling over a cliff. He became devout, funding construction of a church.

Deacon García said the encounter helped people understand the culture of the time of the apparition, the 16th century, and embrace the story more deeply. The veneration of Mary is always linked to Jesus in her womb, Deacon García said.

“I think we achieved the proposed goal of renewing our faith and our beliefs, since that is the medicine we need to move forward,” said Jesse Villarreal, who leads Knights of Columbus outreach to Hispanics.

Msgr. Chávez called Our Lady of Guadalupe “part of our identity.” He said that the center of the miraculous image is Jesus in the womb.

“The Guadalupe event is a historical event that dates back to the time when the Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico accompanied by the missionaries, but remains alive, is always present and transcends time and space,” Msgr. Chávez said. He said her message was clear and repeated: “Don’t be afraid! Aren’t I here and aren’t I your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?”

That reassurance is needed just as much now, Msgr. Chávez said.

St. Juan Diego, the man to whom Mary appeared in 1531 on Tepeyac hill near Mexico City, could get no one to believe him. But then he found flowers growing, even though it was winter. He gathered them in his tilma as evidence for the bishop and when he emptied them out, the image of Mary was on the garment miraculously.

At that time, the indigenous people of Mexico felt devastated and defeated by the Spanish conquest. Having a virgin who looked like an indigenous woman was a stunning occurrence. What’s more, she appeared in a season when indigenous people performed human sacrifice to the sun god. In contrast, Our Lady of Guadalupe brought the God of love in her womb, Msgr. Chávez said.