Journey of devotion

A push for a shrine to Our Lady, begun in 2001, ends with a pilgrimage to Mexico and a new landmark in Santa Fe

Anne Constable | The New Mexican
7/26/2008 - 7/23/08

On her first day in Mexico City, Diane Alvarado climbed to the top of Tepeyac, the hill where in the 16th century a poor Indian farmer named Juan Diego heard a brown-skinned Virgin Mary ask that a chapel be build there in her honor.

Two days later, she joined nearly three dozen pilgrims from Northern New Mexico at the foundry where a 12-foot, 4,000-pound statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most important symbols in Hispanic culture, had been cast in bronze.

Late Thursday, the statue was installed on a prominent piece of land just north of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Santa Fe, where Deacon Anthony Trujillo predicted it will become a landmark.

Alvarado and the other faithful were on a 12-day pilgrimage to Mexico earlier this month. They accompanied the statue — lying humbly in a crate on the back of a flatbed trailer — along El Camino Real from Mexico City to Chihuahua, stopping in Zacatecas, Durango and Parral.

"I had been waiting for this trip. It was an historical moment," Alvarado said. "This brought all of us closer to Our Lady."

As the pilgrims approached the foundry, Alvarado helped lead them in singing "Hail Mary" in Spanish.

Their first glimpse of the sculpture was overwhelming, she said. Tears welled in their eyes. "Everyone was in awe. It was so emotional."

Leaving the foundry, they sang again, this time, "Adiós, Oh Virgen de Guadalupe."

In Mexico City, more than 5,000 people attended a Mass to honor the statue at the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the most-visited Catholic shrine in the world.

Everywhere the reaction was the same. The peregrinos, or pilgrims, were treated as honored guests. There was a Mass in the local church, and people stood in line to see the sculpture. Some climbed aboard to kiss the statue or place coins and flowers on the virgen's chest. A child with leukemia, a blind girl, a group of nuns, las viejitas — many shared stories of the special reasons they came to see the statue with the Santa Fe group. "They couldn't stop touching and kissing her," Alvarado said.

Alvarado, a part-time teacher, member of the Santa Fe Fiesta Council and chorister whose mother was named Guadalupe, said she has always prayed to Our Lady to intercede in her behalf. "It's not like I depend solely on her, but I know he listens to her," she said.

The pilgrimage was eye-opening for many of the Santa Feans.

"We thought we were the only ones with this deep devotion. We found that in Mexico the devotion was even stronger," said Judy Espinosa.

She said she hoped the statue's presence in Santa Fe would promote understanding. The congregation at Our Lady of Guadalupe includes many old Northern New Mexico Hispanic families and many newer immigrants. "Maybe she'll bring peace and unity among the people," Espinosa said.

The fundraising for the shrine definitely brought people together, said Deacon Trujillo. "Everybody became part of the same parish."

He, too, was impressed by the similarities in devotion to Our Lady on both sides of la frontera. "We are a common people," he said. "As Americans, we forget we are connected."

Trujillo collected dirt from every church along the route, stored it in baggies and will add it to the installation of the statue in Santa Fe. At night, he and the others checked pictures and comments posted on the Internet by photojournalist Joshua Trujillo, Deacon Trujillo's son, who wrote a daily blog on the journey.

A shrine is born

Fundraising for the artwork began in 2001, when a group of Catholics with a special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe formed a nonprofit to build a shrine in her honor.

That year, the Museum of International Folk Art exhibited a digital photograph of the virgen by California artist Alma Lopez. In it she stands in a floral bathing suit, her hands on her hips; a bare-breasted angel holds her aloft. In traditional depictions of Our Lady, she is demure, her eyes cast downward, her belly swelling with a child, her hands clasped in prayer. The stars on her mantle indicate she comes from heaven.

Although Lopez also has a strong devotion to Our Lady, her "in your face" (some would say sacrilegious) portrayal of the virgen set off a storm of controversy in Northern New Mexico, where she is revered by the faithful who see her as a symbol of peace, hope and motherly compassion.

Many Catholics demanded the image be removed from the state-supported museum, setting off a wounding debate about artistic freedom, free speech and religion in the community.

The idea for the shrine came from Deacon Jim Baca of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Rio Rancho. A board of directors was formed. Deacon Trujillo, one of those who objected to the museum exhibit, joined an advisory board. In 2004, after the Rev. Tien-Tri Nguyen became pastor, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church took over the project.

The fund for the bronze statue began to build. A number of families contributed to the shrine in lieu of sending flowers for funeral Masses.

Slowly the church accumulated $50,000. Georgina "Gogy" Farías, who lives in Mexico, was chosen to be the sculptor over Northern New Mexico artists, in part because of her devotion to Our Lady and because she agreed to donate her artistic fees. As a young mother, she was ill and had prayed to Our Lady for her recovery. Members of the parish also wanted to emphasize the route of the Catholic faith from Mexico to New Mexico.

In April, a group of parishioners traveled to Farías' studio to approve the final design. "In this part of the continental United States, Our Lady of Guadalupe is very traditional," said Espinosa. Farías, who has sculpted popes and saints, agreed. She also went along with a few changes. The parishioners, for example, made some recommendations with regard to the hair of the angel and also asked that the aura be attached in a way that the virgen's shawl and stars were visible.

Welcome home

After the pilgrims left for home, the statue continued by truck to the border at Ciudad Juárez, where there were delays. It had to be inspected for contraband, and U.S. officials declined to let the Mexican driver and his truck continue on to Santa Fe, so Our Lady was stored temporarily in a warehouse in El Paso.

On Tuesday, Deacon Trujillo, Nguyen and others decided they were tired of waiting and agreed to travel to Southern New Mexico to, as Trujillo said, "break her out."

Their anxiety was a feeling shared by many immigrants, Nguyen noted. "A lot of immigrant families have gone through the same experience. They don't know where there relatives are. This helps us recognize the struggle of the people crossing the border and families here who are worried and anxious," he said.

He also hoped the wait would lift the congregation and build excitement about the arrival of the statue.

Wednesday morning there was another setback when an official from the warehouse at first refused to allow the group to take the statue. But a broker at the warehouse finally agreed to release Our Lady. "We were like little boys who finally got their candy," Deacon Trujillo admitted.

The sculpture was loaded on a truck and trailer belonging to parishioners, and the happy caravan started north. Approaching Santa Fe, carloads of faithful joined the procession behind a city of Santa Fe police officer on a motorcycle. Horns blared. At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, there was an emotional reception and blessing before the caravan continued on to the church for a reception and welcome Mass.

Small miracles

Home in Santa Fe, many of the pilgrims recounted stories of small miracles and touching encounters with Catholics on the other side of the border. Veronica Nava, 35, a secretary at the church who works with the Spanish youth ministry, said she was astonished when she walked into the church in a poor barrio in Chihuahua and saw Rosalio Acosta, the priest who had baptized her. As a young seminarian, he had studied in Montezuma, N.M., for seven years. She had not laid eyes on him in 18 years, not since he was the popular pastor of a mission in Nogalejo, Mexico, a small village where her parents lived near Valle de Zaragoza.

"Do you recognize me?" she asked.

Of course, the priest replied, calling her by a childhood nickname. "You are 'Ojitos de Uva.' "

Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or


In 1531, a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous farmer in Mexico who was on his way to Mass. Speaking to him in his native Nahuatl, Mary asked that a chapel be built in her honor at the site. When Juan Diego asked for a sign to take to the bishop of Mexico, she directed him to a barren stony place nearby to gather roses (which did not grow in the country in December). He gathered them in his tilma. When he arrived at the bishop's house and spilled the roses out of the cloak, an image of Our Lady appeared on the garment. The miracle led Indians to embrace Christianity. The tilma is displayed in the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexico City. Juan Diego was canonized in 2002.

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By Karla Duarte
(Submitted: 07/28/2008 1:25 pm)
Please don't go there!

By Jose villegas
(Submitted: 07/28/2008 1:03 pm)
Many blessings and graces to the?parishioners and?their clergy?for defending their faith and giving sacred honor?to the true image of "Our Lady."?Certainly, I will not dismiss the?facts on how painful and hurtful our families in Northern New Mexico as well as across the state and nation felt on what occurred in the "sacreligious" actions?involving the?New Mexico State Folk Art Museum and their Board of Directors. However,?I have given a serious heart-felt?to forgive and let it go. I believe "Our Lady" will take care of those who don't believe. Again,?"welcome home, "Our Lady."??

Picture: Joshua Trujillo. See more photos and video on his blog at