At the beginning of the final year of the second
millennium of Christianity, Pope John Paul II came to the most sacred
space of the Western Hemisphere to proclaim his vision and plan for
the third millennium. On January 2, 1999, surrounded by the People
of God—cardinals to street people—from throughout the hemisphere,
the pope sat directly under the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
in her shrine at Tepeyac and delivered his post-synodal apostolic
exhortation, Ecclesia in America.
In this marvelous letter, he carefully linked the Jubilee of the
2,000th anniversary of the Incarnation of the Son of God with the
recently commemorated 500th anniversary of the coming of the gospel
to America and with “the birth of the Church in history...” through
Mary invoked as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The pope’s message to America, the Incarnation and the gospel in
America, and the birth of the Church in history are intimately interconnected,
not just for America, but also for world Christianity. Why do I dare
to make such a bold statement? Bear with me a bit because I am convinced
this is one of the most fascinating insights the Holy Father has given
us for a deeper and more human appreciation of just what we are celebrating
in the Great Jubilee.
As we prepare to celebrate the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation we
cannot think of beginning without reference to the one through whom
the Incarnation was made possible: Mary of Nazareth, who gave flesh
and blood to the divine Word. She gave birth to the Eternal Son of
God in time and space, in history and in geography. This was the beginning
of a new divine-human endeavor for the sake of the salvation of humanity
from its self-destructing values and conduct.
Through sin, persons had become mortal enemies of each other and
were tearing each other apart. God took on our flesh and blood so
as to create a new way through which humanity could once again be
one united family, and he chose to do it with the cooperation of a
Unifying Role of Mary
There is nothing which unites a family more than the presence of
a loving and caring mother. God certainly knew this when he chose
Mary, from the unknown town of Nazareth in Galilee, to be the mother
of his son made flesh. She would be the first teacher of love and
compassion of the God-made-man for us.
Jesus was certainly very aware of the unifying power of a mother
when, as the final act of his earthly life, he gave her to us to be
our mother: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his home”
(John 19:27). At the center of the home of every disciple—whether
a domestic church or the universal Church—stands the unifying presence
of our mother.
The earliest followers of Jesus certainly experienced this unifying
power when after the Ascension they were gathered in prayer around
Mary, the mother of Jesus, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.
And it is amazing how in moments of great historical crisis, Mary
has appeared once again to usher in the healing, liberating, unifying
and saving presence of her Son.
We enter into the celebrations of the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation
with a deep feeling of love, compassion and gratitude to the simple
woman from the small town of Nazareth who agreed to be his mother.
She agreed even though she feared greatly and did not know how it
would come about or, even worse, the possible consequences: Who would
believe that her pregnancy was not of man? Would she experience disgrace
or even stoning? Who would believe that this apparently insignificant
event, totally unnoticed by the historians of that period, would begin
a new human history?
Furthermore, it was she who first announced the characteristics of
the new creation which her son would initiate: “He has shown might
with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown
down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry
he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke
What was formed in the womb of Mary would be the very beginning of
the new creation of love and justice, of honesty and sincerity, of
mercy and forgiveness. It would be the beginning of the new family,
wherein all would recognize the fundamental dignity and value of each
other as creatures of the one Creator, children of the one God.
This was the beginning, but in time many of the followers of the
Son allowed his brightness to be eclipsed by the light of the powers,
wealth and honors of this world. In his very name, they conquered
others, exploited them and subjugated them to slavery and perpetual
servitude, and even killed them. But once the energy of the new creation
was released into the world, it could not be stopped. As always, God
would use unsuspected means to continue his work of redemption, for
the grace and creativity of God are far greater than the evil and
stubbornness of human beings.
Incarnation and the New World
In Christianity we have no doubt that the greatest event of human
history since creation itself is the birth, life, death and resurrection
of the Son of God. In reflecting upon the uniqueness of the meeting
of the two hemispheres of the planet for the first time in human history,
on the fact that for the first time the various peoples of the globe
could truly become one people, the great 16th-century historian Francisco
López de Gómora declared: “The greatest thing after the creation of
the world, except for the Incarnation and death of the one who created
it, is the discovery of the Indies, the so-called New World.”
For Pope Alexander VI, the discovery of America in the western half
of the planet was the beginning of the final days of humanity, the
beginning of the ultimate humanity. Unfortunately, explorers started
in the conquest, rape, robbery, subjugation and exploitation of the
native peoples of the land. In spite of the grave sinfulness of the
beginnings, there were incredible graces. The greatest and most unique—unique
in the historical development of Christianity—was the visitation of
Mary at the very beginning of America in 1531.
As Eve had been the mother of the first humanity, Mary of Nazareth
had been the mother of the new humanity which started with the Incarnation
of the Son in her womb. Now Mary of Tepeyac would be the mother of
the ultimate humanity which started not with the conquest but with
the Incarnation of Christ in America.
John Paul II furthers the insights of Gómora, Alexander VI and others
as to the providential uniqueness of the new beginning for humanity
in his vision for the Synod for America—not the Americas as many wanted
to call it. The pope insisted: “The decision to speak of ‘America’
in the singular was an attempt not only to express the unity which
in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond
which the peoples of the continent seek and which the Church wishes
to foster as part of her own mission, as she works to promote the
communion of all in the Lord” (Ecclesia in America).
If we are truly to become a New World, the Church must not allow
political, cultural or linguistic borders to separate us not only
as Christians but also as a human family. The uniqueness of America
is that it has brought and/or welcomed peoples from every race, nation
and ethnicity into its midst. It is the new Noah’s ark bringing in
from every human species on earth to create a new people, truly a
new creation, especially given the horrible and bloody religious,
ethnic and racial divisions our present day is experiencing.
There is no doubt there have been many injustices in the process,
especially in relation to the original inhabitants of this land and
the Africans who were forced from their homelands and brought into
slavery in the New World. These and all other injustices must be addressed
vigorously. This does not, however, distract from the real potential
for something truly new in the history of humanity—a human family
composed of all the peoples of the land.
As we in America celebrate the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation,
we cannot help but reflect with gratitude and awe on how the Word
became flesh here in America, in the “so-called New World,” in the
place where the new humanity was born. In the midst of our chaos,
darkness and suffering, the Word became our flesh and dwelt among
us through the unsuspected entry into history of the Mestiza Virgen
In and through her, the various peoples of this land would become
a new people as reflected in her mestiza face. In her face
they would recognize elements of their own skin and ethnicity. She
was the beginning of what we can truly call the New World,
not the “so-called New World” which simply opened new territories
where people could be segregated, dominated and enslaved, but the
real New World where men and women of all colors, ethnicities and
backgrounds could live and work in peace, mutual respect and harmony.
It is the New World announced in the Magnificat and initiated by
her Son now coming historically into existence in America. The real
newness of America is that it is a melting pot of all the peoples
of the world forming a new people. Who but a loving and compassionate
mother can unite such a diverse mob?