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Ma, Welcome to My Heart and Home

I joined World Youth Day to look for The One (hahaha, joke). Kidding aside, I joined WYD 2023 in Lisbon as a pilgrim in search of healing, enlightenment, and clarity of my direction in life. And due to God’s abundant provision and mercy, I got what I prayed for and a lot more. Specifically, I received something that I didn't realize I needed. And that is a growing and tangible relationship with our Queen Mother Mary, whose birthday we celebrate today.

WYD 2023 Pilgrims at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal)

Growing up, she’s just a concept that’s too alien and distant for me to understand, partly because of the absence of my own mother. My mother is a great mom. I felt her love subconsciously (in her womb) and for the first eight years of my life. It just happened that she just had to go through some things on her own. And so, for ten years (8 to 18 years old), I learned to just fend for myself with my father being too busy with work.

Looking back at my WYD pilgrimage (I wasn’t able to reflect more during the WYD week as I was too busy making sure I won’t miss the buses/trains and be lost 😊), I realized that God and the Blessed Virgin healed that part of me when I was able to visit four Marian apparition sites: Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes where I traveled alone after the World Youth Day

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (Rue du Bac, Paris) where I visited alone after the WYD just before I flew back home

The Close Encounter

The most significant of these visits was to the shrine and apparition site of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cáceres, Spain. We hiked the last 14 kms of the Camino Real de Guadalupe and visited some of the historical sites. After lunch, we celebrated Mass, then, explored the interior of the church. A friar also guided us toward a long flight of narrow, winding stairs, which led to a circular room full of antique paintings and statues way older than the Republic of the Philippines. I was already happy looking at all the elaborate paintings on the ceilings and the walls. But my big surprise came when the friar moved something from the wall, the rotating pedestal where the miraculous statue of Our Lady was placed. And I stood right next to her! The friar allowed us to take turns touching the statue, a memory I will forever keep in my heart.

With aching feet and happy heart, I took a picture outside the Shrine Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura.

A Little Bit of History

In 542 AD, Pope St. Gregory the Great gave a miraculous Madonna statue to Saint Leander, Bishop of Seville. The image was believed to be made by St. Luke the Evangelist. In 712, when the Moors attacked Seville, the Catholics were compelled to hide the statue in a cask and bury it near the Guadalupe River in Extremadura. In the early 13th century, following a series of miracles, Our Lady appeared to Gil Cordero, a humble cowherd, and told him to go and ask priests to dig where she appeared. Although Cordero was initially met with mockery and doubt, the statue was eventually excavated along with the relics of St. Florentina and St. Fulgentius. A shrine and a church were then built in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Spanish conquistadors, as well as holy men and women, were said to hike to the basilica and pay homage to Our Lady first before going to conquer and evangelize the world.

Venerated by pilgrims of all walks of life (kings, saints, farmers, & soldiers), the miraculous Our Lady of Guadalupe image made by St. Luke the Evangelist is part of the elaborate retablo in the Shrine, a best-kept Catholic treasure.

My close encounter with the miraculous statue served as an affirmation that my Heavenly Mother was always with me, even during those moments when I thought I couldn't feel her presence. She was with me, especially during those times when I thought I was alone. A (human) mother is a mother in her own way, but our Queen Mother is a mother in every way. She looks after all of us, and she takes care of each of us.

In another language, Guadalupe also means “hidden river.” In hiking, it’s always a good idea to stay close to the water source or at least know where it is so that one can find refreshment after spending long hours of walking under the heat of the sun. The same can be said about our spiritual life. Our Lady serves as the consolation when we find ourselves walking on the path of life with dampened spirits, cold hearts, and very little faith.

The last 14KM of the Camino Real de Guadalupe hiking trail going to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

As a missionary, woman, and daughter, I know that I’m also called to follow her example – to console and fan the faith of others. But I can only do that when I freely and genuinely welcome her into my heart and home. And that’s my prayer for all of us today, on her birthday. May we become little Marys here on Earth, especially for those people who are thirsty for love and for the source of living water, Jesus.


Written by Jefanie Genilla. Jef has been serving in Pure Heart Philippines since 2018.

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