The original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Guadalupe devotion rising for Indigenous

  • December 9, 2020

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is not some distant, colourful, Mexican tradition for former New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor Graydon Nicholas.

Born into a Maliseet family on the Tobique First Nations Reserve, Nicholas is also Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Canadian chauffeur.

Nicholas has been driving a specially blessed and authorized version of the world-famous painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe to communities, churches and homes across Canada since 2006, introducing people to the story of Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego, a poor Nahua man, in December of 1531. 

Since long before Pope St. John Paul II officially declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas in 1999, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as she appeared in New Spain almost 500 years ago has grown among Canada’s Indigenous people.

“It’s a big thing for us,” said Nicholas. “First of all, because she appeared as an Indigenous woman. For us as Indigenous people of the Americas, Native Americans or First Nations, we say, ‘Wow, isn’t that something? That Jesus would send His mother to lay down the path for the evangelization of the Americas?’ That’s what’s beautiful for us.”

In the age of endangered languages, there is also special significance in the fact that when Mary appeared on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City, she was speaking Nahua — an Indigenous language, Nicholas said.

Since 2005 Canada’s bishops have designated the Dec. 12 feast day as National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. As a member of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle, which brings together Canadian bishops and Indigenous elders, Graydon has played an important role encouraging devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and educating both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians about her.

He’s been driving her image to small towns, reserves and parishes since not long after one of four exact digital copies arrived in Edmonton. He and his wife Elizabeth, who is not Indigenous, share the story of their devotion to Nican Mopohua — the Nahua name for her.

“She is a beautiful advocate in our lives,” Nicholas said.

This year’s Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples elevates traditional Indigenous respect for the natural world as a model for all Canadians. In “Healing the Earth,” a joint statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Guadalupe Circle, the table is set for the day of prayer by reminding people of Jesus’ own relationship with nature.

“Jesus used mud from the Earth to heal the blind,” said the statement. “He went into the wilderness and to the mountains to fast. He used bread and a few fish to feed thousands of people. He worked with the wind and water. Jesus was in full relationship with all things of creation.”

It’s not a message that’s exclusively for Indigenous Canadians, said Nicholas.

“The thing is to raise the consciousness that we are all children of God. It doesn’t matter your colour, creed or faith,” he said. “She’s here to help those who are downtrodden, who are poor. Earth is crying right now because the Earth is being abused — all in the name of I guess what we would call progress.”

(NOTE: This story has been updated to correct Graydon Nicholas' name.)

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