Pope Francis wrote that mercy is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” That image of the bridge, of course, reminds us of the very role of the Pope, the “Pontifex” (bridge-builder). In the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which started this week it is also a fitting image for Mary, the Mother of God, whose feast we celebrate today under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
At Guadalupe, Mary made herself a bridge between two cultures, peoples she tenderly loved despite their sinfulness and the innocent blood they had spilled. They had been set against each other, natural adversaries: the Spanish conquistadors and the proud Aztecs who found themselves subject to the rule of foreigners. Into the breach came the lovely Lady at Tepeyac, choosing Juan Diego, an Indian Christian, as her messenger. She sent him to a Spaniard who was no “conqueror,” but a Franciscan bishop and official “Defender of the Indians.” When the cautious bishop asked for a “sign” that it was indeed the Queen of Heaven who was communicating with the Aztec, he (and all of us) received the incredible image of Our Lady of Guadalupe indelibly—and implausibly—imprinted upon Juan Diego's cactus-fiber cloak.
The bishop saw that Our Lady was not a fair-skinned Castillian, but had the olive complexion of a daughter born to Spanish and Aztec parents (or like a Palestinian Jew). The Indians saw a woman like themselves, yet belonging to the Christian religion of the Spaniards (since the brooch at her neck bore a cross). Her pose was evocative of the “Woman” foretold in the Book of Genesis who would “crush the serpent” (Gen. 3:15). To both Spaniard and Aztec, she brought the reconciling message of the Gospel: her own Son, the true “bridge” in whom there was no longer “Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free” (Col. 3:11).
Within seven years, 8 million Native Americans embraced the Christianity that the Spaniards had been unable to impose by persuasion or by force. In her maternal mercy toward Aztec and Spaniard, the Virgin of Guadalupe had bridged the unbridgeable gap.
Sometimes there are breaches so huge that only mercy, taking the form of forgiveness, can bridge. Sister Mary Peter shares the story
about one mother who found the strength to cross that bridge, forgiving her son's murderer. She is a mother according to the heart of Mary, according to the heart of God: “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy” (Pope Francis “The Face of Mercy,” n. 3).