We have just passed the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In my years of life and ministry here in the Southwest I have come to know, love and confide in Mary of this name- mostly through the faith of her beloved children here at the border. When Sister Peggy and I started a clinic in the colonias out in the desert near El Paso we felt guided by Guadalupe. We “gringas” didn’t know too much about her but we had a sense that if we put the clinic under her patronage then the folks wouldn’t be reluctant or afraid to come for care. We needn’t have worried about that. They came. And they did feel at home. Even our evangelical brothers and sisters did not seem to be put off by the images of Our Lady that graced every wall of the clinic. Over the years we came to understand that the message of hope, compassion and reconciliation that Guadalupe gave to Juan Diego was exactly what our ministry at the clinic was about. And it wasn’t us who decided to name a clinic in the colonias “La Guadalupana”, but it was La Guadalupana herself who inspired us to bring health care to her children in the colonias.
Peggy and I have moved on to other ministries here at the border, urged not just by the charity of Christ (our Sister of Charity mission) but also by the pushing and pulling of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She seems to be in cahoots with our founder, Elizabeth Seton, in rooting us deeper on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Late last Thursday afternoon I drove out to the clinic for the feast day Mass. Ever since the first December of the clinic’s existence we have celebrated Eucharist outside in the parking area. A local group performs the traditional sacred Aztec dances in honor of Our Lady. In early years we had mariachis or a local guitar group for the liturgical music but in recent history I’ve been able to accompany some of our clinic staff in that capacity. So on Thursday I was carrying my guitar from the car across the dirt parking area when the sound of the drums and the dancers stopped me in my tracks. I stood for a moment, taking in the scene that was so familiar, and I felt the celebrations of fifteen years well up in my heart. The clinic still looks like a little white house, just a few additions since 1995, and the vast desert still surrounds it on three sides. The view is as breathtaking as ever.
But what my heart was not prepared for was the rush of dear friends, my former patients and co-workers, some of whom I had not seen since I left the clinic due to illness in February 2008. One after another they came and embraced me, welcoming me home, all thanking God for the gift of my recovery. Several brought reluctant children. “Do you remember?” they asked me. Then we would reminisce about worrisome pregnancies and childhood illnesses. Some of those babies are now highschool students! One of the clinic board members brought her six year old son in costume as St. Juan Diego. He came with his little painted mustache, straw hat, and white tilma with the image of Our Lady, presenting me with two yellow roses. Shall we put them in the vase on the altar? I asked him. We did.
From my vantage-point at the side of the altar during Mass I could see so many familiar faces. I recognized their voices offering prayers of intercession. Our singing was enthusiastic if not always on-key. These are Guadalupe’s favorite people, I thought to myself so many times during the liturgy. They are the same suffering, struggling, marginalized ones to whom she brought a message of love, dignity and healing 500 years ago.
Our liturgy ended long after dark and we continued the grand reunion with hot chocolate and fruity calientitos in the clinic thrift shop/education center. When I finally carried my guitar back to the car I stood again to look at the clinic. The front porch light was on and the inside lights illuminated the glass block cross behind the statue of Guadalupe. This is a beautiful ministry. What a blessing to have had a part in it, to know this community on so many different levels, to share the stories of these lives! It has been a privilege to serve here. Now others will continue the ministry and develop services to meet new needs. Our Lady will continue to guide them as she has always done.
And she continues to guide me. She has made me one of her own- a Guadalupana. Happy Feast!