Friday, 19 October 2012

She is known affectionately as ‘La Morenita’, the ‘little brown lady’, as her skin colouring is that of a local Indian, rather than a Spaniard. The gold-rimmed turquoise of her mantle and pale pink of her robe bespeak royalty in the Aztec society of that time, and with its golden light radiating behind her, she as it were eclipses the sun – in very simple terms, the local religion was a kind of glorified sun worship. But in contrast to the indigenous deities, depicted in statury with deranged, straight-ahead stares, Our Lady is looking down in an attitude of great gentleness and modesty, and holding her hands together in prayer, showing that she herself is not to be worshipped, but only the One who sent her. Among the other important details is a black sash around her waist, to signify that she is with Child; unofficially she is the Patroness of all unborn children, besides being Patroness of the Americas.

   With the promulgation of the Bull Sublimis Deus on June 9th 1537, Pope Paul III decreed that;

“We…consider that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic faith, but, according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. …the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; they may and should freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property…nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and of no effect.”
   It is not within the scope of this account to make a detailed defence of the record of 16th century Spanish colonisers of the New World, except to say that many commonly held Anglo-Saxon assumptions (along with hackneyed clichés about the Inquisition) can be traced back to the 1580s, when England and Spain were at war. One need only think of the gratuitous demonisation, for instance, of the Serbs in the Yugoslav Wars, to be reminded that public opinion can be thoroughly manipulated in the interest of achieving a military objective. Even so, it’s clear that not all Spaniards, even among the clergy, kept either to the spirit or the letter of Pope Paul’s words, and moreover it also appears that previous and subsequent Papal pronouncements were more ambiguous on the question of indigenous freedoms, and therefore open to willful misinterpretation. Nevertheless, with this Bull the Papacy set down in clear terms its position that the Indians were human beings. In this respect one can make an interesting comparison with the status of Indians in the (Protestant) USA, where not until 1879, in Omaha, was it ruled for the first time that “an Indian is a ‘person’ within the meaning of the laws of the United States.”[1]

   In recognising and insisting upon the inalienable human dignity of unborn children, the Catholic Church is similarly a long way ahead of its time. You can’t deny someone their status as a human being, simply because they aren’t old enough. This question possibly has a greater urgency for people born after the liberalization of abortion laws in western countries in the 1960s and 70s, because they themselves, but for the grace of God, could have been engulfed in the abortion holocaust[2]. Your mother terminated her pregnancy in the best way possible: she gave birth to you. Civilised countries should be in the business of trying to protect everyone’s right to have a birthday. Given the cultural and historical context of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, discussion around her inevitably turns to the subject of the practice of human sacrifice. And when people have stopped talking about abortion, they sometimes address the subject of Aztec religious customs.

[1] Successfully argued by Ponca Native American chief Standing Bear and his wife Susette Primeau.
[2] To those who maintain that legality doesn’t lead to an increase, in the first year after liberalization, there were around 4000 abortions in the UK. The figure now stands at around 200,000 per year – a 50 fold increase. In total, over 7 million defenceless unborn children have perished in the UK since 1967.

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