National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows

Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI

Usually, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a day in which parishes, shrines, and Cathedrals are filled with the faithful who come to Our Lady’s house and bring her music, dance, flowers, and above all, prayers and petitions. Catholics and people of all cultural backgrounds and languages gather to celebrate the Mother of God. On December 12, 1531, Our Lady visited our North American continent in Mexico City. Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in all Mexicans’ lives, and her image has played an essential role in the lives of people in the United States and worldwide.  The feast day recalls the apparitions to  St. Juan Diego, who was an Aztec convert to Catholicism. From December 9-12, the Mother of God appeared to Juan Diego and requested a little house- a shrine be built. On that mountain, she will be available to welcome the needs and prayers of “all the peoples of these lands.”

The congregation size for the celebration is limited by local Covid restrictions

Our Lady of Guadalupe visited our continent to help people of different races, and colors feel at home with God and others. In the little house that the Mother of God requested, the many native people and Spaniards found a home. In Our Lady of Guadalupe everyone finds a home with God. The roses that Our Lady sent to the Bishop in Mexico City were Castilian roses which were from his native land of Spain, she invited him to feel at home among the peoples he was sent to evangelize.

Before the Mass Oblate Fathers (L-R) Juan Gaspar, Presider, Raul Salas, Salvador Gonzalez

This year because of COVID-19, many churches are unable to  welcome the usual number of pilgrims to the celebrations. This year, people worldwide are invited to welcome Our Lady of Guadalupe and her message of reconciliation to their homes. Our Lady of Guadalupe and her son Jesus come to us again and make their tent in the homes of so many who are asked to remain at home. By staying at home, the faithful are not abandoned by the Church or her ministry. By being at home, people are encouraged to open the doors of their homes and hearts to Mary’s visit. Two thousand years ago, after the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would become Mother to the Son of God, Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth at her home.  This 12th of December, Our Lady goes in haste to visit the homes of the many people around the world who look upon her as mother.

Fr. Gonzalez at the video console, ready to stream the celebration across the internet

As Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, we are called to be close to the people we serve. Our Lady of Guadalupe is our model of closeness to the people of God. She is the first to “smell like the sheep,” as Pope Francis invites us missionaries to do. The closeness of the missionaries this year is aided using social media and electronic  means. Social media was once seen as a waste of time and a dangerous place, today it is seen as a major channel for evangelization. Social media helps us missionaries reach people that otherwise would not go to Church.

Fr. Porfirio Garcia, OMI

Fr. Porfirio Garcia, OMI from Immaculate Conception parish in Houston has seen his “congregation” grow: “ Our altar to Our Lady of Guadalupe will be outdoors so people can safely gather, but our Mass will be lived-streamed. We have people joining our live stream from Houston, Brownsville, and some parts of Mexico.”

The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville normally hosts a big celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe, but because of COVID-19 restrictions the celebration is limited to a live-streamed Mass. Fr. Raul Salas, OMI  knows the importance of live-streaming the Mass: “ It  is important to live stream the Mass because it lets both the Spanish -speaking communities know that this feast is as important as any other liturgical feast and deserves this type of response to celebrate our Blessed Mother . Live-streaming the Mass helps remind the Hispanic Community that while we are separated physically our spiritual connection continues as we look for creative ways to minister to them as we battle this virus.”

Online ministry does not have to be  static;  it can be participatory by the attendees. This is the experience that Fr. Ray Cook, OMI, Chaplin at Rice University hopes for when he uses social media for Mass:  “ There is a  sense of connection to other community members who are online at the same time. We encourage them to respond to the Mass parts by typing their responses in real time. I also acknowledge people at home in my homily so they can feel included more intimately in the  Mass.”

Fr. Salas as seen online

Every day our missionaries  find creative and safe ways to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only to their parishioners but to the countless number of people who hear the message of the Gospel on their cellphones, tablets, and social media platforms.