A Pilgrimage of Dignity:
A Reflection on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
I grew up in a tiny village in central Mexico and every year, our parish would organize a pilgrimage to visit the National Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. At age eight, I was fortunate to join the pilgrimage. Our parish gathered in the early hours of December the 12th to pray and then we started our pilgrimage to the city. The road seemed to never reach an end, the bus was loud, and the chatter of all our church family made it impossible to fall asleep, but I clearly remember the overwhelming feeling of finally arriving and joining the hundreds and hundreds of Catholics who were also rushing to see the image of their heavenly mother. The Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe awaited; she looked at us with love and mercy. I felt so fortunate to have seen the spark in her eyes in the image that was perfectly preserved in Juan Diego’s tilma and I imagined what it was like for Juan Diego to look into her eyes and feel seen and valued.
At that early age, I did not fully realize how this pilgrimage would prepare me for my own pilgrimage as an immigrant to a foreign country and later on, for my vocation as the director of advocacy and justice and how her loving eyes would give me the courage to speak up for the dignity of all human beings, including those in prison. As we know, the visitation of Our Lady of Guadalupe was very significant to the Catholic Church, for Our Lady reminded the Americas of her love for all, especially those on the margins and those who may be seen as a lost cause. Our Lady of Guadalupe came to reject the mistreatment of indigenous people and offered instead her all-embracing love and a universal path to salvation through her Son, Jesus Christ. Her invitation was so authentic and moving that it is estimated that 9 million indigenous people began their conversion paths to the Catholic faith.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has set an example for me and all those who accept the call to visit those who are imprisoned. Like her, we are called to bring love and mercy, to reject violence that may be a norm among many in prison, and to speak instead of forgiveness and restorative justice. Many challenges come to mind for those who accept the call to this ministry: the long commutes to rural prisons, the loud noise of prison doors as they are locked by an invisible staff member, the summer days in prisons with no air conditioner, and the long waits to get through security. Despite all the difficulties that our weekly pilgrimages to the prisons may bring, we are called to remember that Mary saw our worth; she journeyed from heaven to visit her lost children in Mexico. Inspired by her example, and with firm resolve, those of us working in prison ministry can continue our Lady’s mission.
On this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we ask for Mary’s intercession in this ministry of accompaniment:
– May we be as gentle and loving as Mary when we encounter her sons and daughters in prison
– May we recognize Jesus’ face when we visit our brothers and sisters in prison.
– May our pilgrimage to the prisons bring dignity to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s forgotten children.
Aida Bone is a cradle Catholic with a BA in Sociology from Mount St. Mary’s University and an MBA in Healthcare Management (MBA) from St. Leo University. She is passionate about teaching others about her Catholic faith through justice. Aida Bone currently serves as the Director of Advocacy in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. She helps coordinate the prison ministry in 42 city, state, and federal jails and prisons. She represents Bishop Wack in the Florida Catholic Prison Ministry Coalition and is the legislative chair for the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. At a national level, she works closely with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to identify organizations in her diocese seeking to change systems that affect the poor and those in the margins. She also collaborates with Catholic Relief Services and helps activate Catholics to respond to the needs of our global family through almsgiving and advocacy.