New UM Bishop Encourages Worship Of Guadalupe Virgin Statue To Attract Hispanics
By Manya A. Brachear, Chicago Tribune staff
When some members of Amor de Dios United Methodist Church in Little Village elected to move a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe into the sanctuary last year, the icon spawned an exodus.
Turned off by the introduction of a Roman Catholic tradition to a Protestant congregation, most of the church's 15 founding parishioners drifted away. To them, venerating the Virgin Mary and reciting the rosary did not belong in a Methodist church.
Pastors of other Hispanic Methodist congregations objected too. They said praying to the Virgin equaled idolatry.
And Roman Catholics in the neighborhood worried that the church might be selling itself as something it was not.
Still, Rev. Jose Landaverde allowed the statue to stay. He says he sees no harm in embracing a tradition--the Virgin is an unofficial national symbol of Mexico--that might bring people closer to God.
"It's coming from the people, which is the real presence of the Holy Spirit," said Landaverde, 31, a student pastor from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. "You cannot bring theological debates to the people when they need spiritual assistance."
This month, parishioners celebrated their first novena in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe by parading the 2-foot-high statue around the neighborhood, singing songs and reciting the rosary. About two dozen parishioners weathered the chill each night to deliver the statue to a different living room, where it was surrounded by garland, twinkling lights, roses and poinsettias.
On Sunday, parishioners will commence the traditional Feast Day for the Virgin of Guadalupe and, through prayers, mariachi music, drama and dancing, pay homage.
Landaverde says that if the church's mission is to make disciples for Jesus Christ in transitional communities, it must embrace cultural traditions.
Rev. Peter McQuinn, a Roman Catholic priest at nearby Epiphany Parish in Little Village, questions Landaverde's methods. He said many of the church members might not fully understand they are part of a Protestant church.
"It's kind of like pirating a Catholic tradition that's been part of liturgical celebrations and part of our theology for millennia," he said. "It does seem a little bit out of place with the United Methodist Church. They rejected that clearly."
Landaverde said as long as churches are working toward the same mission--"to make disciples of Jesus Christ and work for social justice"--denomination should not make that much of a difference.
Rev. Oscar Carrasco, director of connectional ministries for the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, said exploring practices such as venerating the Virgin Mary can further the ecumenical dialogue between Roman Catholics and Methodists.
"What has been important is that this symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe came with the people," he said. "It's so etched in their hearts because of the struggles the people have gone through. They have suffered many things--hunger, poverty, health, lack of jobs. Every time they try to seek the divine, this symbol has been present.
"God through the Virgin said to the poor native population, `I am with you in your suffering and I am with you in your pain,'" Carrasco said. "That cultural value still has significance today."
"Since I was little, it's always been right to have the Virgin Mary in the church," said Olivia Serrato, 40, one of the original parishioners who decided to stay after the Virgin was introduced. "It's now a great honor to bring the Virgin Mary to my Methodist church. Before I didn't feel complete."
Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune
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