Blessed Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, also known as "Madre Lupita," the Mexican co-founder of the Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary and the Poor, is pictured in an undated portrait. She will be canonized May 12. CNS file photo

Mexico's soon-to-be-saint recalled for her ministry to poor, sick

By  David Agren, Catholic News Service
  • April 29, 2013

GUADALARJARA, Mexico - A shy woman stopped to pray in front of statue of Blessed Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala while visiting the Santa Margarita Hospital. She knew little about the founder of the facility, who will be canonized May 12, but, like many, she had heard stories from hospital patients who say the soon-to-be-saint still walks the halls providing care, attention and miracles to those in need.

Madre Lupita -- as Blessed Maria Guadalupe is better known in Guadalajara -- left a legacy of providing care for the poor and the elderly through the Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary and the Poor, the order she co-founded with Father Cipriano Iniguez in 1901 at the age of 23.

She will become the second Mexican woman to be canonized and the latest from the western state of Jalisco, where the Cristero Rebellion raged in the 1920s and religious like Madre Lupita were forced to carry out their work as laity because of anti-clerical restrictions that forbade her wearing a habit.

"If it had been viewed as a convent, they (government officials) would have closed the hospital," said Sister Raquel Rodriguez, administrator at the Santa Margarita Hospital.

Such hardship from the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution and the Cristero Rebellion -- a period Catholics in Guadalajara remember through the beatification of priests and religious often martyred in that period -- was common during the early years of Madre Lupita's ministry.

The sisters celebrated Mass in secret during the predawn hours to avoid drawing scrutiny and hid priests and Guadalajara Archbishop Francisco Orozco Jimenez in their facility, even though "Soldiers were stationed at the door," Sister Raquel said. Raids were common.

Still, "Madre Lupita, with the great charity that she had, and other sisters would feed (the soldiers.) She would say, 'It's not their fault,'" Sister Raquel said.

Such stories of charity mark Madre Lupita's life. She was born in 1878 to a well-to-do family in Zapopan, then a corn-farming village but now a Guadalajara suburb best known for its basilica and patroness.

She was engaged to a young suitor but entered religious life and founded a religious order to attend to the poor.

"From a very young age, she showed a great love for the poor, for all people in need," said Sister Raquel, who has promoted sainthood for Madre Lupita. "She was a woman who loved God, service and prayer."

Added Sister Laura Margarita Sierra Vazquez, who joined the order in 1955, "She was strict, but ... very compassionate, very understanding and very loving."

"When someone would call for a nurse or knock at the door during the night, she would say, 'It's Christ coming to visit us,'" Sister Laura Margarita said.

The order expanded as the Cristero Rebellion subsided and now has a presence in five countries. Its reputation expanded, too, especially as the work at Santa Margarita Hospital grew. Madre Lupita and her sisters collected funds for the growing health care ministry by soliciting donations in the street.

"She had a lot of contact with a lot of people, so upon her death (in 1963) some of these people ... the same people that she treated ... started to petition the religious association to take up the cause of Madre Lupita as a saint for all of her charity," Sister Raquel said.

Miracles were reported almost immediately after Madre Lupita's death 50 years ago. Sightings of her in hospital wards and patients saying she attended to them also were not unusual.

Visitors began traveling to the hospital, asking for her intervention.

Sainthood, said Msgr. Ramiro Valdes, vicar of the Archdiocese of Guadalajara, was appropriate for Madre Lupita, whom he described as "a witness to her faith and a servant to the poor and those most in need."

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