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Catholic Heroes . . . Mother Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala

June 21, 2016 saints No Comments


Which basilica in the country of Mexico has been visited by both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Francis? The Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan. Like Our Lady of Guadalupe, the story of Our Lady of Zapopan begins in the year 1531.
Beginning in 1531, the same year that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego, Franciscan Fray Antonio de Segovia traveled throughout Mexico with the image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in an effort to bring peace to the warring tribes.
According to accounts of his work, when he preached, rays would emit from the image as he called for peace. More than 6,000 Indians laid down their arms, leading Fray Antonio to call her “She Who Makes Peace.”
On December 8, 1541, Fray Antonio gave the new village of Zapopan the image. After many reported miracles, Bishop of Guadalajara Don Juan Ruiz Colmenero called for an ecclesiastical investigation and then declared the image miraculous, designating December 18 as the feast day of Our Lady of Expectation of Zapopan.
At the end of the 17th century, the medical profession gave testimony that a terrible epidemic had ceased without explanation after the people carried the image of Our Lady of Zapopan through the city streets. This happened again in 1721 when the plague struck the city.
Since 1734, the image has visited each barrio of Guadalajara from June 13 through October 4. In 1919 the Vatican bestowed the honor of declaring the canonical Coronation of Our Lady of Zapopan and she was given a golden crown and installed in the Cathedral of Guadalajara. The official crowning took place on January 18, 1921.
Next to the cathedral, there once was a religious goods shop owned by Fortino Garcia who was married to Refugio Zavala de Garcia. On April 27, 1878, they welcomed a little girl into their arms: Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico.
As a child, Maria accompanied her father to the religious goods shop when he went to work. Since the shop was next door to the cathedral (now designated as a basilica), little Maria spent many hours each day walking the grounds and visiting the various shrines. Her favorite one was the image of Our Lady of Zapopan.
As time passed, the other visitors to the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan began to notice the little girl who possessed such devotion to our Lady. They remarked on both her holiness and her other virtues as she had such compassion for all persons — especially the poor and hungry.
When Maria was a young woman, she and Gustavo Arreola planned to marry. One day, however, she rushed to her spiritual director, Fr. Cipriano Iniguez, with a new dilemma. After prayer at the basilica, she discerned a new direction for her life. She explained to Fr. Iniguez that she understood “Jesus was calling her to love Him with an undivided heart,” as part of the religious life. She believed that as a religious sister she should minister to the poor and the sick.
Fr. Iniguez, pleasantly surprised by this announcement, welcomed Maria’s change of heart and what she felt she was called to do. For some time he had felt inspired to found a new order that would work in the hospitals to assist the sick and dying.
Thus Fr. Iniguez and Maria joined forces to serve the poor. The new congregation was officially named the Congregation of the Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary (Alacoque) and the Poor on October 13, 1901.
In the beginning, Maria worked in a small building that they set up as a hospital. She warmly welcomed their patients, most of whom had no means to pay for their care. Cheerfully and compassionately she tended to both their physical and their spiritual needs. She possessed great dedication and commitment to those who were suffering.
The congregation began to grow quickly, so Fr. Iniguez soon appointed Maria as the superior general. She welcomed the new girls, teaching the sisters more by her example than by structured classes. She lived a simple life, joyfully embracing poverty as the primary means of becoming “poor with the poor.”
Maria also gave an example by embracing all that came from the hand of God. When the hospital had no funds to purchase basic necessities for the patients, Mother Maria would go to her spiritual director seeking permission to beg for money and materials.
With sincere humility she would collect what people would give, never asking for more once the needs of the patients were met.
The sisters also served in the parishes by helping the priests teach the catechism. This close relationship with parishes proved beneficial during the Cristero War between the anti-Catholic government and the Catholic Church. Although the war is officially dated from 1926-1929, the tensions between the Church and state lasted from 1911 to 1936. During this time Mother Maria and her sisters risked their lives by hiding the archbishop of Guadalajara and other clergy within the hospital properties.
Mother Maria’s more than unusual charity was not limited to persecuted Catholics. She also loved her enemies who lived near the hospital by giving the persecutors of the Catholics food and care. These men then became the defenders of the sick persons in the hospital in which the sisters worked.
After the hostilities abated the sisters continued to serve the poor among them. After many years of service, Mother Maria contracted a serious illness causing her much suffering over the next two years. She died on June 24, 1963 at the age of 85.
On April 25, 2004, Pope St. John Paul II beatified Mother Maria, saying, “In the Gospel reading we hear the threefold question of Jesus to Peter: ‘Do you love me?’…Christians must decisively and readily respond to the projects that He has for each one of us. Such was the life of the Mexican Blessed Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, who, by giving up matrimony, dedicated herself to serving the poorest, the sick, and the needy; she founded for this the Congregation of the Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary and the Poor.
“With deep faith, unlimited hope, and great love for Christ, Mother ‘Lupita’ sought her own sanctification beginning with the love for the Heart of Christ and fidelity to the Church. In this way she lived the motto which she left to her daughters: ‘Charity to the point of sacrifice and perseverance until death’.”
Mother Maria was canonized in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on May 12, 2013 by Pope Francis. Her feast is celebrated on June 24.
Dear Mother Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, by your example you showed how to live in poverty and in obedience to God, accepting all blessings and challenges as gifts from His hand. Intercede for us in these difficult times that we may continue to serve the poor and not fear protecting those who are threatened by the enemies of the Church. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ

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