The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/17 – The Americas

At the onset of the Mexican conquest, Juan Rodriguez de Villafuerte placed a small statuette of the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child in the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, Mexico City. Cortes destroyed the altars dedicated to idols, which were made out of a paste and mixture of seeds and sacrificial human blood. The incident of ‘altar smashing’ was an immediate reaction by the Spanish to the view of warm hearts belonging to sacrificed children and placed before the idols. Cortes addressed the Aztec Emperor Montezuma on this matter and inquired how was it possible that the great Emperor was deceived to believe that the idols were gods and not devils. Cortes built an altar where the Europeans daily prayed and sang the ‘Ave Maria.’ Montezuma was intrigued by the song and later taken prisoner by the Spaniards who, without the approval of the Aztecs, placed Christian statues and a cross in Tenochtitlan. On July 1, 1520, at Otoncalpulco, during the battle against the Aztecs, Cortes urged his Spanish troops to pray to ‘Our Lady of Remedios,’ or ‘Our Lady of Good Remedy,’ for their deliverence from a confined compound. Whilst the Spanish prayed, the Aztecs performed their tribal witchcraft, invoking their gods and demons of war to destroy the Spanish. The Aztec priests advanced to the compound where the Spanish where located and displayed visions of human heads and legs jumping around and also visions of corpses rolling on the ground, accompanied by screams and wails.

As the Aztec warriors organized themselves for battle, Cortes recognized their captains in their glittering war costumes. He led his horsemen with lances drawn through the attacking line. Cortes knocked the ‘Cihuacoatl’ or ‘Plumed Warrior’ to the ground and another Spaniard killed the Aztec. The commander’s plumes and standard were normally mounted upon the back of the Cihuacoatl and served as an indication where other warriors should attack. As the Cihuacoatl was removed, the loss of his leading colorful plumes was immediately felt and confusion resulted among the Aztecs. The event was a major battle fought during the Mexican Conquest and Cortes was later honored for his triumph, the name ‘Otumba’ meaning ‘from lightening’ decorates his statue in his hometown of Medellin. At the site of the Temple of Otoncalpulco, a church would later be consecrated to the ‘Virgin of Remedios,’ in remembrance of the victory she wrought for the Catholics.

The Spanish also took the Blessed Virgin to the Andes. In 1532, at Cajamarca the Spanish defeated the natives provoked by the premise that King Atahualpa was unwilling to accept the story of the Virgin birth. Following the capture of Atahualpa, Pizarro marched towards the center of Inka power in Cuzco. In 1534, at the Santurhuasi, Saint James and Our Lady appeared, astonishing the Inka warriors and forcing them to submit to the Spanish troops. The Blessed Virgin was reported by many witnesses of having extinguished a thatched roof set on fire by the attackers, also of having shot dust or hail into their eyes. The very site was later transformed into the first Catholic Church in Cuzco and when the cathedral was built it was named ‘El Triunfo’ or ‘The Triumph.’ The Cathedral was consecrated to the ‘Virgin of the Assumption.’ This apparition is still celebrated annually on the May 23. According to the accounts, Saint James appeared following a tremendous thunderclap and a terrifying bolt of lightning, which struck the fortress of Sacsahuaman. Eyewitness accounts purport that Santiago was mounted on a white horse and wearing a feathered hat descended on the lightning bolt.

The Blessed Virgin had revealed to Juan Diego that: “You shall call me Mother and I shall be yours; and you shall call upon me in your tribulations and I will hear you; you shall plead with me for liberty and I will loose your chains.”(1) The Mexican troops called upon Our Lady of Guadeloupe to intercede against continued Spanish rule. The Blessed Mother was given the title of ‘General of the royalist forces’ and her statue was clothed in military attire by the nuns of San Jeronimo, who provided the statue with a small gold baton and sword. In 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, urged the Mexicans for a revolution and invoked Our Lady of Guadeloupe as his rallying cry against bad government. In February 1811, a procession and novena for peace gave thanks to Our Lady of Remedios for having delivered the city from Hidalgo and his troops. All sides were invoking Our Lady’s help. In 1821, Augustine Iturbide took over Mexico City, his discourse at Tepeyac offered thanksgiving to the Virgin for acquiring Mexican independence. Iturbide would later be the founder of the Imperial Order of Guadeloupe, himself elected as the Grandmaster and the Emperor of Mexico.

In 1914, the Zapatista revolutionaries carried the banners of Guadeloupe through the Mexican streets. In 1917, Government constitutions removed the Catholic Church from its educational mission and restricted many of its privileges. On November 14, 1921 an explosive device blew up the high altar at the Tepeyac Sanctuary. The blast shattered the surroundings bending a crucifix. However, the tilma together with the Image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, was completely unaffected. Due to the miraculous preservation of the Image, the devotion to Our Lady steadily increased. The pilgrim can this day view the tilma and Image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe through a bombproof glass shield. In 1910, Pope Pius X proclaimed ‘Our Lady of Guadeloupe’ as the Patroness of all Latin America. In 1990, Juan Diego was beatified and in 2002 he was canonized.

In 1954, in Bolivia the National Police and Carabineros named Our Lady as their Patron and Protectress, presenting her with a sword and a hilt of gold. The Bolivian Navy declared the Blessed Virgin as their Admiral and Patron. The naval decree reads, “…the Sainted Virgin of Copacabana is declared to be the principle Patron before God, of the entire Navy of Bolivia, with the High Rank of Admiral of the Navy with all the corresponding rights and privileges of her station as an act of Catholic faith of the Armed Forces of the Nation.”(2)

In the Country of Argentina, an Image of ‘Our Lady of Lujan’ of the Immaculate Conception was taken by cart on a journey to an estate owner at Sumampa, who had asked a sailor to bring such an image from Brazil. As the cart journeyed it came to an abrupt and unmovable stop. Removal of the box containing the Image corrected the problem. Successive chapels were built to keep the Image for veneration and eventually the chapels gave way to a basilica. The cart came to stop at an ancient Indian battle site waged against Spanish troops, occurring in the year 1536. Here Captain Pedro Lujan had perished. When Argentina struggled to separate itself from Spain, the devotion of Our Lady of Lujan spread. In 1806 the town constructed around the basilica, was the sight where Juan Martin de Pueyrredon and Argentine patriots met to plan the expulsion of the British forces from the Capitol City. In 1813, General Manuel Belgrano offered Our Lady of Lujan two flags which were captured as trophies from the Spanish Forces in the Battle of Salta. His armies were dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Mercy.’ Following the victories of independence of Chacabuco and Maipu, Jose de San Martin, the liberator of Argentina, visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lujan. In 1930, Our Lady of Lujan was named Patroness of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. On September 6, 1930, the liberal government of President Hipolito Yrigoyen fell to a military coup. A general who replaced the President quickly performed ceremonies naming Our Lady of Lujan as the Patroness of Argentina. The Basilica of Lujan contains two chapels dedicated to the military.

In June 1944 Juan Peron, the future president of Argentina, emphasized the connection between “…the Gospel and the Sword”(3) in his presidential campaign speech. During this period the bishops of the church urged the faithful not to vote for political candidates who intended to make divorce legal and introduce other measures to separate Church and State. The military government of President Juan Carlos Ongania had consecrated the nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In November 1969 the president, surrounded by 2,000 bodyguards, led civilian and military authorities to the Shrine of Lujan. There he prayed, “Our flag has the same color as your tunic and mantle… Patroness of the Argentinian people and their military regiments; Virgin of Loreto, Patroness of the Air Force; Stella Maris, Patroness of the Navy; and Virgin of Mercy, General of our Army.”(4) In 1975, previous to the military Argentinian coup against Isabel Peron, the insurgents prayed a ‘campaign rosary’ keeping images of Our Lady alongside their swastikas. In 1974, a copy of the Image of Our Lady of Lujan was placed in Port Stanley in the Falklands, Malvinas Islands. During the crisis with Britain, the torturers from the concentration camps joined in the recitation of the Holy Rosary beneath the statue. Evidently the idea of the Blessed Virgin as a powerful intercessor before her Son, was by now more of a cultural traditional phenomena, rather than a spiritual devotion. The Argentinian soldiers were given metal Rosary beads, one Argentinian soldier who placed his Rosary beads around his neck was miraculously saved from a gunshot. Notwithstanding this miracle the distribution of Rosary beads to the Argentinian soldiery did not favor the Argentinian cause. Argentina lost the war and the soldiers’ prayers were seemingly useless. Many soldiers insisted that the army was poorly prepared. Again, in Argentina during the military repression years (1976-1983) the Blessed Virgin Mary was invoked by opposing political sides. In 1984, at the end of military rule, hundreds of right wing supporters, cadets, ex-retired military personnel and officers joined forces at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Lujan, to pray to the Blessed Virgin.

During certain wartime occasions, when the Blessed Virgin was invoked for assistance, she failed to offer her aid. Mary seemingly failed to help the Argentinians in the Malvinas conflict. In her apparitions the Blessed Mother insists that people must convert and lead proper Christian lives. Saint Peter Celestine offers the best reason for the apparent selective intercession. According to the saint, a certain soldier offered daily some devotion to the Blessed Mother. On one occasion the soldier received a most splendid gift, for the Blessed Virgin appeared to him. He was suffering greatly from hunger and Mary offered him exquisite meats from a foul-smelling filthy utensil. The soldier couldn’t get himself to taste the food. Our Lady said, “I am the Mother of God and am come to satisfy thy hunger.” The soldier replied, “I cannot eat out of so dirty a vessel.” Our Lady continued, “And how canst thou expect that I should accept thy devotions offered to me with so defiled a soul as thine?”(5) The soldier repented of his sins, converted and rectified his life. He became a hermit and before his death witnessed the Blessed Virgin who took him to heaven.

Previous to the settlements in New England and the arrival of the Mayflower in North America, Christian Viking settlements were present in the years 1100 in the Canadian region of Labrador. In the south, the Catholic Spaniards founded the town of Santa Fe, seven years before Jamestown and seventy-five years previous to the arrival of the Mayflower. During this period, Fray Marcos de Niza, reported to the Spanish Crown, on the region of New Mexico on its suitability for colonies. Previous to 1606, Franciscan missionaries arrived at New Mexico, founding their missions and converting the Indians. Many were martyred for the Faith. The most antique statue of the Blessed Virgin in North America, ‘Our Lady of the Rosary, La Conquistadora,’ is found in Santa Fe Cathedral in New Mexico, it was brought in 1624 by Fray Alonso da Venevides. In 1625, Fray Alonso brought the statue of ‘Our Lady of the Assumption’ and installed the statue in the first shrine in the USA in honor of Our Lady. A ten-year-old girl was suffering from a grave illness, she miraculously recovered whilst witnessing a vision of Our Lady. In her vision the Blessed Virgin Mary warned the early colonists that they were to suffer a chastisement and be destroyed because of their lack of reverence to the priests and the Catholic Holy Religion. On August 12, 1680, the Feast of Saint Lawrence the first Spanish martyr, and eve of ‘Our Lady Refuge of Sinners’ August 13, the North American Indians regrouped and savagely attacked the colony. The City of Santa Fe was burned, the Spanish were driven out and 21 priests were killed. Many who prayed the Holy Rosary escaped, taking with them the statue of ‘Our Lady of the Rosary,’ saving it from the blazing ruins of the church. The statue was taken to Juarez in Mexico.

Digressing a little bit, as the Feast of Saint Lawrence was mentioned falling on August 12, it would be desirable to dedicate a few sentences to this early Spanish martyr and the soldiers who aided this saint. In 258, the Roman Emperor Valerius martyred Pope Sixtus II for not renouncing the Faith. Sixtus had effected the translation of the mortal remains of Saint Peter and Paul and gave the Holy Relic, the cup that Christ used during the Last Supper, to his deacon Saint Lawrence. Saint Lawrence was in turn martyred in Rome, burnt upon an iron gridiron. To him are attributed the words to the executioner, “Turn me for I am well roasted on this side.” He was the faithful custodian of the Holy Relic, known by the masses as the Holy Grail, and was successful at preserving it from the Roman authorities, by handing it to a Spanish soldier by the name of Prozelius, who removed it to Spain. It can be today viewed in the Cathedral of Valencia in Spain. Along the centuries ridiculous legends and tales of the Holy Grail diffused by the fallen away Knights Templars, the Rosicrucians and the Masonic Lodges were fabricated. Nazist Herr Hitler himself believed that if the Holy Grail were acquired, this relic would impart upon the bearer such powers as to receive eternal life on Earth and as he hoped, the fulfillment of the 1,000 year reign of the Third Nazi Reich. Indiana Jones was definitely more successful!

In 1691, Don Diego de Vargas, the emissary of the Spanish King, was to re-establish the colony in Santa Fe. He was deeply devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and vowed to return La Conquistadora to her rightful throne as ‘Patroness and Protectress of the Kingdom and Villa of Santa Fe.’ Don Diego led his army beneath the standard of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Along this territory he held discussions with the leaders of the ‘pueblos.’ His countenance and his message greatly impressed them, the Indians and Spaniards alike could now live in peace beneath the loving gaze of such tender a mother who cared for both peoples. In just four months, twenty three tribes accepted Don Diego’s offers, 2,000 Indians converted to Catholicism without any bloodshed. The merit was attributed to ‘the Sovereign Queen, Most Blessed Mary’ by de Vargas himself. In 1692, on arriving at Santa Fe, the Indians were not prepared to accept the Blessed Virgin as their mother. They resisted Don Diego, who had to resort to military action. The Spanish were grossly outnumbered and set up a make shift shrine for the statue of Our Lady outside the city. Don Diego instructed the Spanish to recite the Rosary and the act of contrition. On giving orders for an assault, the Spanish attacks were ineffectual and as the day came to a close the town was still under Indian control. The following day the Spanish cavalry was successful and the Villa of Santa Fe was reconquered. In honor of the successes he received, Don Diego de Vargas was said to have placed a baton in the statue’s right hand. In thanksgiving the Church of Santa Fe was rebuilt and the Statue of the Patroness of Santa Fe was placed within.





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