The great organ in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen was silent yesterday afternoon. In its place were the words and music of representatives of 22 Hispanic communities in Baltimore, praising the Virgin Mary in heartfelt Spanish to the accompaniment of a half-dozen guitars.
Roman Catholics of Spanish and Latin American heritage, many in national costume, came together to celebrate the 461-year-old tradition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Archbishop William H. Keeler, Bishop John H. Ricard and numerous other vested clergymen, including a preacher from Washington, all spoke or sang in Spanish throughout a special Mass.
"Our Father who art in heaven" became "Padre nuestro, que estas en el cielo."
The Mass was preceded by an outdoor procession of worshipers praying the rosary, led by a cleric with a bullhorn.
Solemnly carried in the procession was a flower-bedecked replica of the ancient Guadalupe image of the Virgin. Surrounding it were young girls in white blouses and full, many-colored skirts. Bright red predominated.
This popular manifestation of the mother of Jesus, outgrowth of what millions believe was a miracle near Mexico City 10 years after the Spanish conquest, is being given new emphasis by the church's leadership in North America as the numbers of Spanish-speaking adherents surge.
Recent U.S. Census Bureau projections, which see Hispanics overtaking blacks as the nation's most numerous minority by the year 2013, mean even greater percentages of Latinos in the U.S. Catholic Church.
Despite vigorous and successful Protestant evangelization among them in North as well as South and Central America, Hispanics remain for the most part at least nominally faithful to their Catholic traditions.
The increasing numbers in the United States -- today's 24 million Hispanics are expected to double by 2020 and more than triple before the middle of the 21st century -- are taken very seriously by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican.
When Pope John Paul II visits Denver in August, an audience to include 30,000 Spanish-speaking men and women under the age of 30 is being planned.
Pilgrims to the Guadalupe shrine in Mexico are measured annually in the hundreds of thousands -- an airport-style moving walkway was installed in the basilica there because of the crowds that converge on the Virgin's painting. The image is thought to have appeared miraculously under a bunch of roses on the mantle of a devout Indian, Juan Diego.
While yesterday's congregation in the North Charles Street cathedral could be measured in the hundreds instead of the thousands, the devotion seemed no less intense. A theologian from Seattle, whose appearance Saturday afternoon at Mercy High School inaugurated a new series of lectures in Baltimore, had a ready explanation: "The message of Guadalupe is caring, compassion and mercy."
The tradition of the Virgin's appearance to Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531, "speaks to all people who have been marginalized," or kept out of the mainstream of society, said Jeanette Rodriguez. She is on the faculty of the Institute for Theological Studies at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution.
Although the New York-born and New York-educated Dr. Rodriguez said she now believes the story of the miracle, she did not always. "Something wonderful happened in 1531, because there were 9 million baptisms in six years," she told her Mercy High audience, almost entirely women.
Not all truth is arrived at rationally, she said.
Skeptics were urged to come to "an understanding of the mystery that surrounds us" by "entering into the realm of affectivity, emotion, intuition."
Evoking the celebration that was to follow 24 hours later at the cathedral, Dr. Rodriguez reminded her listeners on Saturday that it was with "flowers and song" that the subjugated indigenous people such as Juan Diego "grasped truth."
The Virgin's words, Diego had reported to his incredulous bishop, included promises of "my love, my compassion, my help and my defense . . . for am I not here, I who am your mother?"
Said Dr. Rodriguez, "If you look at this [the image of Guadalupe] with Western European eyes, you're not going to get it. But it's not important if you don't believe -- what is important is the impact that it has had."
Her lecture was the first of an annual series on the Catholic faith sponsored by the newly founded Mount St. Agnes Theological Center for Women. Its director, Sister Mary Aquin O'Neill, called Dr. Rodriguez "this vibrant, passionate, feminine theological voice speaking of God in new ways."
At the conclusion of yesterday's Mass at the cathedral, Archbishop Keeler read an alphabetical list of the nationalities represented, beginning with Argentina and ending with Venezuela. As he did so, people from each country stood to waves of applause.