(CNSNews.com) -- In a message sent to the Americas on Dec. 12, a day the Catholic Church celebrates in honor of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, Pope Francis, who was named Person of the Year this week by Time magazine, said that America is called to be “a land prepared to accept life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age.”
The Pope made his remarks during the course of the weekly general audience on Wednesday, and the message for the Americas was subsequently broadcast on Vatican Radio.
Dec. 12 is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe because the Church approves and millions of Catholics believe that the mother of Jesus appeared to a Mexican peasant, Juan Diego, in Guadalupe in 1531.
Commenting on the special day, Pope Francis said, “When Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego, her face was that of a woman of mixed blood, a mestiza, and her garments bore many symbols of the native culture. Like Jesus, Mary is close to all her sons and daughters; as a concerned mother, she accompanies them on their way through life.”
He continued, “She shares all the joys and hopes, the sorrows and troubles of God’s people, which is made up of men and women of every race and nation. When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma [woven poncho] of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come.”
“Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity,” said the Pope.
“That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church," he added. "I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.”
In Mexico, Dec. 12 is a bank holiday celebrated with public celebrations (fiestas) in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The day is not a federal holiday, but a religious festival where children dress in traditional garb and are blessed in churches; and thousands show up at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to pray.
For Catholics, Our Lady of Guadalupe is also called the Patroness of the Americas. She is also honored as the patroness of the unborn, and her image, from the Guadalupe depictions, is frequently used in pro-life marches and prayer vigils.
Pope Francis was named as Time magazine’s Person of the Year on Dec. 11. In explaining its choice, Time said the Pope “has done something remarkable: he has not changed the words [of the Church’s message], but he’s changed the music. Tone and temperament matter in a church built on the substance of symbols.”
“For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy," said the magazine, "Pope Francis is TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year.”