The enchanting music and song of the Missa Criolla resounded through St. Peter’s Basilica on the evening of Dec. 12 as Francis, the first Latin American pope, celebrated mass on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and expressed the hope that the continent where he was born would distinguish itself in the future by “new ways of development” marked by its care for the poor, the exploited, the persecuted and its work for justice and peace.
“Today, with gratitude and joy, the peoples and nations of our great Latin American homeland commemorate the feast of their “patron,” Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose devotion extends from Alaska to Patagonia,” Francis, in his homily, told a congregation of thousands of Latin Americans in the basilica, including ambassadors, and thousands of priests, nuns, religious and lay people from all countries of this continent, and a far greater audience following on TV in many countries..
The two-hour celebration began with the recitation of the Guadeloupian Rosary, presided over by the cardinal archbishop of Mexico City, Norberto Rivera Carrera, and concluded with the rousing popular hymn to Our Lady of Guadalupe known as “La Guadalupana.”
Immediately after the rosary, one could sense a great sense of Latin American pride fill the basilica as the flags of the different countries were carried in parade through the central aisle and placed at the side of the high altar.
That sense of Latin American identity and pride reached a peak when the first ever pope from this continent entered the basilica. He then followed a procession of cardinals and bishops to the main altar. Among them were two cardinals from North America - Sean O’Malley (USA) and Marc Ouellet (Canada and the Vatican); they concelebrated mass with Francis at the high altar, together with some Latin American cardinals.
The Missa Criolla, with the music of drums and wind instruments, was composed 50 years ago by the famous Argentinean composer, Ariel Ramirez. It was considered one of the first and truly beautiful fruits to result in this continent from the reform of the liturgy, and the introduction of the vernacular, brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He presented it to Paul VI. Ramirez’s son Facundo was present this evening, and conducted an Argentine choir at today’s mass, which was celebrated in Spanish – for the first time in the basilica - by the first ever Argentinean pope.
As a young Jesuit and later as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio -the future pope - rejoiced in the Missa Criolla. He once revealed that he felt deeply moved by the music and singing of its “Cordero di Dios” (Lamb of God). He must have felt similar emotions this evening at the magnificent rendering of this same piece. Indeed, the future pope so liked the Missa Criolla that when Cardinal O’Malley visited him in Buenos Aires some years ago, he gave him a gift of a cd of this mass.
In his homily, Pope Francis recalled that when Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego in Tepeyac Hill (on the outskirts of Mexico City), December 1531, she introduced herself as the “ever perfect Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God” (Nican Mopohua).” Then, he said, “she tenderly hastened to embrace the new people of the Americas at the dramatic moment they came into being “ and “assumed within herself the cultural and religious symbolism of the native people, announcing her Son and giving Him to the new and suffering people of mixed race.”
He recalled how Jesus, the Son of Mary, “reveals himself from the origins of this new peoples’ history, as the ‘true God who gives us Life,’ as the good news of filial dignity of all the inhabitants of America.” As a result of this, Francis said that in this continent “no longer is anyone a servant, but we are all children of the same Father, brothers and sisters together.” And, he added, “The Holy Mother of God not only visited these people, but she chose to remain with them.”
Through her intercession, the Argentine Pope said, “the Christian faith began to become the richest treasure of the soul of the American people, whose precious pearl is Jesus Christ. It is a patrimony which is transmitted and manifest today in the many baptism of multitudes of people, in the faith, hope and charity of many; in precious popular piety; and in that popular ethos that reveals itself in an awareness of human dignity, in the passion for justice, in solidarity with the poorest and suffering, in hope that is sometimes against every hope.”
“That’s why here today we can continue to praise God for the wonders he has done in the lives of the Latin American people,” Pope Francis stated. Indeed, God “has hidden these things from the wise and the learned, [and has] revealed them to the childlike,” he added. Throughout history, God continues “sweeping away worldly judgments, destroying idols of power, riches, success at any cost, denouncing self-sufficiency, pride and a secularized Messiah complex which distances (people) from God.”
And as Mary’s Magnificat tells us, Pope Francis said, God “lifts up the lowly, comes to the aid of the poor and the little, he fills with goodness, blessings and hope those who trust in his mercy from generation to generation, while he casts down the rich, the powerful, and rulers from their thrones.”
The Jesuit Pope explained that the “Magnificat” of Our Lady “introduces us to the Beatitudes” which is “the earliest synthesis of the Gospel.” Indeed, he said, “it is in the light of the Beatitudes that we feel compelled to ask that the future of Latin America be forged for the poor and those who suffer, for the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, for the compassionate, the pure of heart, those who work for peace, and for those who are persecuted because of Christ's name.”
He concluded with a request to Our Lady of Guadalupe for “new ways of development” in Latin America “which combine traditional Christianity and civil progress, justice and equity with reconciliation, scientific development and technology with human wisdom, fruitful suffering with joyful hope.”