Leaven Blog

On the Border with Our Lady of Guadalupe

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

In Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe is far more than a religious image; she is a symbol of identity that extends to Latinos throughout the world.

And devotion to Our Lady goes beyond the borders of race and language to unite Catholics everywhere.

I thought about that often this past week when I was in Mexico celebrating the wedding of my goddaughter.

The resort hosting the wedding bore no sign of the poverty that existed outside its boundaries in Quintana Roo.

Guards roamed its pristinely landscaped walkways, and help was at every corner, eager to serve guests.

I’m an early riser and so I would often walk the grounds before sunrise and could see the resort come to life with staff preparing its idyllic atmosphere.

I was amazed at how hard personnel worked cleaning rooms, sweeping sidewalks, manicuring landscapes, sanitizing pools and setting up restaurants with beautifully arranged tables and extravagant buffets.

Because other guests were still sleeping when I went out, I had an opportunity to talk with workers.

The conversation was stilted; I had to speak simply and slowly. But I was touched that they had made an effort to learn my language when I, with far more opportunity, didn’t know theirs.

I have never encountered such humble, kind and sweet-natured people.

Workers told me they averaged 10-hour work days, some traveling hours to get to and from the resort. They earned $13 a day.

And they considered themselves fortunate.

On Sunday, I walked two kilometers to the Catholic church for Mass. I was shocked at the crowd that filled the church, spilling out into the lobby and onto the lawn.

This was not the English Mass most tourists attend. It was the locals’ Spanish Mass.

The band was a mariachi and the congregation, dressed in their best clothes, sang loud and joyfully.

Though it was noon on a hot, humid day, no one seemed to care that there was no air conditioning, or that they had to kneel on wood kneelers and the hard floor.

It was clear from my blond hair and freckled skin that I didn’t belong there. But I felt overwhelmingly welcomed. 

I was struck by a large portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe staring down at me from the altar.

It was a reproduction of the tilma of Juan Diego — a dark-skinned pregnant woman wrapped in a star-covered mantle, standing on a crescent moon and carried by an angel.

I couldn’t help but think of the caravan of refugees from Mexico and Central America on our border at that moment: good people like those who surrounded me in that church, many of them fellow Catholics.

In a few days, I would easily cross the border back into my home country by virtue of my fortunate birth, while my brothers and sisters in Christ, fleeing war, poverty and persecution, would wait in agony for a stranger to determine their future.

Today and throughout Advent, I pray in solidarity with immigrants and refugees and in union with millions of Catholics around the world. 

I pray for Mary’s intercession for the safety, peace and salvation of those good people at our border who want only to work hard for little pay and a peaceful life.

It is so little to ask when this country has so much to give.

“Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift
our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them.
They are Jesus, and the Church will not turn away from Him.”
– U.S. bishops, Jan. 30, 2017

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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