By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published May 24, 2007
As the Hispanic population in North Georgia continues to grow steadily, the Archdiocese of Atlanta prepares to re-consecrate the North Georgia church to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to ask for her to unify and protect the increasingly diverse Catholic population under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and Empress of the Archdiocese.
The archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry Office has purchased 15 Mexican images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and other Marian images that were blessed April 23 by the president of the Mexican Episcopal Conference Bishop Carlos Aguiar, auxiliary Bishop Carlos Briceño of Mexico City and others at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez led about 25 Atlantans on a pilgrimage to Mexico City, where he and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory concelebrated the Mass at the Basilica. Other priests there were Father Daniel Stack and Father Roberto Jaramillo. Family members of Mexican immigrants in Atlanta also attended.
The paintings of Mary from Mexico will be displayed throughout the year at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, and various churches in the Atlanta Archdiocese.
On June 9, the archbishop will bless the Marian images from Mexico at the Eucharistic Congress, and each image will be displayed for a week at a parish in designated regions of the archdiocese, then rotating to another parish in that region.
After the Congress, participating parishes will also offer catechesis in Spanish and English until Dec. 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, named Patroness of the Americas by Pope Pius XII in 1946. On the feast day Archbishop Gregory will lead a ceremony to crown Our Lady of Guadalupe and renew the consecration. Liturgies will be held at 10 other parishes with images that day as well.
All churches are invited to participate in this religious education initiative, which has been created to increase Marian devotion and will include catechesis on topics such as the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Marian theology, the rosary, and the church’s teaching on apparitions. Those participating in the catechesis will learn about inspiring details of the original Guadalupe image, which miraculously appeared on the tilma of Mexican Indian peasant Juan Diego in 1531 and is on display at the basilica in Mexico City. The details include how the stars on the cloak represent the brightest stars of the main constellations of the winter solstice seen in the Valley of Mexico in 1531 and the indigenous symbolism of the four-petal náhuatl flower seen on the cloak.
According to church tradition, during Mary’s four apparitions to Juan Diego as an Aztec princess, she instructed him to ask the local bishop to have a church built there in her honor. He eventually responded after seeing the miraculous image and had a church built on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City, near which the basilica stands today.
The Hispanic Ministry Office planning committee is working with the Department of Religious Education and Faith Formation to develop the materials that will be available for parishes in English and Spanish, along with speakers. The annual Hispanic Encounter will be held on July 7 at St. Andrew Church in Roswell where Hispanic leaders will be instructed regarding the Marian catechesis process.
Father Duvan believes Marian devotion is deeply spiritually enriching.
“We forget we have a Mother, the best gift Jesus gives us on the cross. It will be a good time to renew our commitment to the church and to honor Mary as the model Christian. She lived the Christian virtues,” he said. “And through catechesis if we come to know Maria better, we can know Jesus better and follow her son. To crown Mary is to renew my Christian life.”
Father Duvan believes she is a unifying force for all ethnicities in the multicultural archdiocese and noted in an interview May 14 that Pope Benedict invoked her maternal protection as he opened the episcopal conference of Latin American bishops held recently in Brazil. The Colombian priest, who was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on May 18, emphasized that the Marian activities are not just for Hispanic Catholics but for the whole archdiocese and are a good way for priests and parishes to renew their mission.
“Pope Benedict came especially to invite us to renew our Christian life and to be good disciples and apostles, and Mary is a good way to continue to know Jesus,” he said.
Also while in Mexico, Father Duvan and the archbishop met with various Mexican bishops, who are now more enthusiastic and confident about loaning priests to the Atlanta Archdiocese to help alleviate the clergy shortage. Their confidence comes in part because the Hispanic Ministry Office has developed the St. Paul Acculturation Program, which acclimates clergy from other countries with the English language and training on cultural aspects as well as provides education on the local church.
Father Duvan also made arrangements for three new Mexican priests to come to Atlanta “on loan.” Currently four Mexican priests serve the predominantly Mexican Hispanic immigrant population. He will now concentrate on recruiting more priests from Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
“All the bishops in Mexico—they are excited that we are preparing the way to receive priests in this diocese,” he said. “I introduced them to our archdiocese, explained our inculturation program. We listened to suggestions from them.”
Father Duvan, who has a small photo below his computer of Mexican martyr St. Toribio Romo, the patron of immigrants, said that there are currently four seminarians at a pontifical university in Mexico City studying for this archdiocese and that he hopes to start also utilizing the Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Mexico, which was founded about 15 years ago specifically to prepare immigrants who have been living here for priesthood in the United States.
The need to foster Spanish-speaking vocations in Georgia is exigent, as the Hispanic population in North Georgia is projected to double from 2005 to 2015. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are approximately 600,000 Hispanics in Georgia, but the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce believes the number is actually much higher. The majority of Georgia’s Hispanics live in metro Atlanta.
For the past five years, Leonardo Jaramillo, director of Hispanic youth and young adult ministry, has been concentrating heavily on providing spiritual, integration, catechesis and education programs for youth and young adults with a hope to foster more vocations. They are also trying to work more closely with the Office of Vocations. “Our goal is to have our vocations in our archdiocese,” affirmed Father Duvan.
The priest has also been concentrating over the last five years in increasing coverage of the church on CNN en Español and other media outlets. He also is raising a moral voice on Hispanic political issues and recently participated in the clergy day at the Georgia Capitol. In addition, the Hispanic Office has joined with Catholic Charities to plan a day of prayer for undocumented immigrants and comprehensive immigration reform that would give a pathway for the estimated 11 million undocumented to earn legalization by paying significant fines, proving work history, paying taxes and other measures.
“Our Communications Department and Catholic Charities and Hispanic ministry are trying to promote prayer for immigrants because day by day the migration situation is darker and more critical,” said the charismatic priest in English. “We need the Anglo community to support us, especially with their prayers, and little by little we will be integrated in this Catholic community in North Georgia, like one community, one church in North Georgia with one pastor.”
Father Duvan is excited to be a new U.S. citizen, which will enable him to vote and advocate more forcefully for the poor migrants, and he encourages other eligible Latinos to apply for citizenship and engage themselves in the legislative process.
Other current projects slated by the Office of Hispanic Ministry to build unity in the archdiocese include an inculturation conference for English-speaking priests to be held June 18-20, which will include Father Mario Vizcaino from the Southeast Pastoral Institute in Miami and an anthropologist from Mexico.
“We want to invite all Anglo priests interested in knowing more about the Latin American church and our Hispanic presence in this archdiocese.”