May is traditionally a month when Catholics turn our attention toward Mary more intentionally. Marian processions and crownings in parishes and schools remind us of our childhood. I love processions!
I remember the school processions in May growing up in Colombia, South America, holding candles and singing hymns as we followed an image or a beautifully decorated statue of the Virgin Mary. Parents and neighbors joined along. By the way, this was a public school. Different world.
There is something awe-inspiring about the love for Mary among U.S. Hispanic and Latin American Catholics. Countless souls in the continent have embraced and grown into the depths of the Christian faith moved by our love for Mary. The Marianist motto, “to Jesus through Mary,” rings very much true in Hispanic/Latino cultures.
Not long ago, the most popular Marian devotion among U.S. Catholics was the Immaculate Conception. The devotion reminds us that God preserved Mary from the effects of original sin to be the mother of Jesus. Depictions of the Immaculate Conception present Mary as a lone woman radiating purity and holiness.
Today, the most popular Marian devotion in the U.S. is Our Lady of Guadalupe! One more sign of the profound cultural and demographic changes redefining the U.S. Catholic experience. More and more Marian devotions from Latin America — and from other parts of the world, to be fair — have found a home in thousands of our faith communities.
The stories behind these devotions are captivating. They often relate to images or statues found at a particular time when people who struggled searched for hope within their own faith tradition.
Relating to Mary, the courageous woman who accepted God’s invitation to be part of the divine plan, the mother who understands what it means to give life and the pain of losing a son, seemed rather natural.
These devotions became an essential aspect of the identity of entire peoples in the continent. They continue to do so today.
Many Hispanic and Latin American Marian images depict Mary together with the child Jesus. The message is profoundly relational.
For instance, Our Lady of Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity), a Cuban devotion, holds the child Jesus while he blesses the world. That is also the case of Our Lady of Peace from El Salvador, Our Lady of Chiquinquira from Colombia, and Our Lady of Coromoto, venerated by Venezuelans.
Yet, these portrayals are not limited to a mother holding her child. Our Lady of the Divine Providence, a Puerto Rican devotion, places Mary staring at the child sleeping peacefully on her lap. The icon of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, from Guatemala, also shows a child sleeping in his mother’s arms. There is something sacred about contemplating a child sleeping.
The icon of Our Lady of Altagracia, popular among Dominican Catholics, shows Mary looking at the child Jesus laying before her. Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery) portrays Mary breastfeeding the child. A chapel in her honor was built at the first Hispanic mission in the U.S. territory in St. Augustine, Florida.
The miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe portrays a beautiful mestizo woman who is pregnant. Her apparitions signaled the birth of a new creation. Yes, mother and child at the verge of something new.
These examples give us a taste of how in the Hispanic Catholic imagination Mary and Jesus journey together. We journey alongside mother and child. We delight in their relationship. We learn to be community with them. May is a beautiful month to be Catholic.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a member of the leadership team for the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.