NAPA, Calif. (CNS) -- It is in the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 to a poor Indian convert that we can see God's plan and care for America today, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said in a July 27 address that tackled the "de-Christianization" of U.S. culture.
"At Guadalupe, the mother of God came to be the mother of the Americas," Archbishop Gomez said on the opening day of the Napa Institute Conference.
The way forward in this time of cultural crisis is to turn to Mary, Archbishop Gomez said. "We need to consecrate our Christian lives and the church's mission to the Virgin," Archbishop Gomez said.
"I think this is the answer to the challenges we face right now in our culture. The way forward for our church -- right now, in this moment -- is to 'return' to Guadalupe. "We need to follow the path that the Virgin sets before us -- the path of building a new civilization of love and truth in the Americas," Archbishop Gomez told the approximately 500 people gathered for the four-day conference in Northern California's wine country.
Our Lady of Guadalupe was given to us by the Lord, and she was given to us in all times, not just the times of St. Juan Diego, the peasant to whom she appeared and on whose "tilma," or cloak, the winter roses she caused to bloom left her image, said Archbishop Gomez.
"What Our Lady said to St. Juan Diego, she now says to us: 'You are my ambassador, most worthy of my trust,'" Archbishop Gomez said.
Archbishop Gomez said American culture has become an alien landscape for Christians.
"In the last decade, it is like we all woke up to discover that American society is being progressively 'de-Christianized,'" Archbishop Gomez said. Founded as a Christian nation, America has in many ways never lived up to those values, with slavery, "the tragic mistreatment of native populations, ongoing injustices like racism and the million or more abortions performed each year," Archbishop Gomez said in his talk titled "The Marian Heart of America: Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our 'Post-Christian' Society."
Still, Archbishop Gomez told those gathered, "the promise of America -- what still distinguishes this country from all the rest -- is our commitment to promoting human dignity and freedom under the Creator. At the heart, this is a Christian commitment."
And that is changing, he said. "We face an aggressive, organized agenda by elite groups who want to eliminate the influence of Christianity from our society," Archbishop Gomez said.
"My friends, we do not have the luxury to choose the times we live in. These are hard times. There is no denying it. But the saints remind us that all times in the church are dangerous times," the Los Angeles archbishop said.
"For me, the question is not really -- how are we going to shape our times?" the archbishop of the nation's largest archdiocese said. "The better question is: How does God want us to shape our times? What is the path that Jesus Christ would have us follow in this moment in our nation's history?"
Archbishop Gomez said that path began in Guadalupe in 1531.
"The apparition at Guadalupe was not a random occurrence. There are no coincidences in the providence of God. Our Lady did not appear only for the Mexican people," said Archbishop Gomez. Mary told St. Juan Diego at Guadalupe, "I am truly your compassionate mother; your mother and the mother to all who dwell in this land and to all other nations and peoples."
Within a few years after Mary's appearance, millions were baptized in Mexico and throughout the Americas.
"A great wave of holiness swept through the continents -- raising up saints and heroes of the faith in every country," Archbishop Gomez said, noting St. Junipero Serra set sail for the New World aboard a ship called Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
He arrived at Veracruz and he immediately started walking -- 300 miles to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, where he spent the night in prayer and consecrated his American mission to Mary.
"Guadalupe is the true 'founding event' in American history. And that means it is the true founding event in the history of our country -- and in the history of all the other countries in North and South America.
We are all children of Guadalupe," Archbishop Gomez said. The Guadalupe story is "the 'spiritual dawn' of the church's mission in the Americas," Archbishop Gomez said.
"In God's plan, this is one continent. It is meant to begin a new civilization, a new world of faith. This is what Guadalupe is all about."
"The great St. Pope John Paul II called the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe -- 'the Marian heart of America,'" Archbishop Gomez said.
"The nations of the Americas all trace their faith to the coming of the Virgin at Guadalupe. We share a common story of origins. And we are joined in a common destiny," Archbishop Gomez said.
"Guadalupe is a vision of the world as God wants it to be. The 'shrine' that Our Lady wants us to build in the Americas is a new civilization -- a culture that celebrates life and welcomes life."