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‘England has a special role to play’

Venerated the world over, Our Lady of Guadalupe is perhaps one of the most striking images of the Virgin Mary around. She is the patroness of the unborn and of the Americas. A relic image – one of 220 full-size copies which have touched the miraculous image – is currently travelling around England and Wales in a low-key tour that will culminate on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December.

Edmund Adamus, the director of Pastoral Affairs for Westminster archdiocese, has organised the tour and hopes, among other things, that the presence of the relic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe will renew an understanding of England as the Dowry of Mary.

Sitting in his office just behind Westminster Cathedral, Adamus, a genial northerner with twinkling eyes, explains how the image came to be in Britain and in his hands. Two years ago, he took part in the World Meeting of Families in Mexico City where he gave a speech and saw the original tilma, the cloak with the image imprinted on it.

Then, around Christmas 2009, he was contacted by John Rick Miller, the Master of the Guild of Our Lady of Willesden shrine, who was just returning from Mexico. Miller had been given one of the relic images commissioned by Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City in 2004 to bring back to England. He rang Adamus and told him that he had brought this “incredibly unique image but I don’t know what to do with it, but I said to them I know a man who might know what to do with it”.

On February 2 – the Feast of the Presentation, Adamus interjects – he went to see the full scale image at Miller’s house. Miller explained the background of the picture and its significance. Under normal conditions a country needs to ask for a relic specifically, but he said the Mexicans wanted one of the images to go to England. Adamus was blown away by the image. He started thinking.

“I thought that, given the position that I’ve got, maybe I’ll be able to make it available for people to venerate and it can be part of a focus for prayer for the family and peace and the unborn – anything and everything, really. I got it in my head to arrange for it to be welcomed in the diocese and then I thought: ‘Why just this diocese if it’s for England?’ We could open it up.”

Adamus wrote to Archbishop Vincent Nichols to say that the image had come into his possession and that it would be a useful focus for his pastoral work, and that he wanted it to travel around the country. Archbishop Nichols recommended that he write to bishops in other dioceses offering them the image.

Adamus wanted to make it a novena tour starting on March 12, so he explained his ideas in the letters and slowly things started coming together. From the first days in Westminster Cathedral Hall, Willesden Shrine, Ealing Abbey and Forest Gate in Brentwood, the image travelled to Portsmouth cathedral and Walsingham shrine. It is scheduled to go to Birmingham cathedral for the Day for Life in July at the request of Archbishop Bernard Longley.

In September, the image is due to go to Northampton where, Adamus says, the reaction has been most enthusiastic of all the dioceses in England and Wales. They have organised a host of events around the visit of the relic. From there it is due to go to Hallam diocese for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in October before it is taken to Southwark cathedral for a weekend which will culminate in the Latin American celebration on October 10.

Referring to the successful and popular visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux last year, Adamus says: “This is nothing fancy, nothing like the scale and profile of the visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux, but it is a unique initiative and it would be good if people had an opportunity to experience it and it’s good to encourage more prayer.”

The image will also go to Middlesbrough and in Salford the relic will be on display at the Gem Churches, the three churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as well as at the Manchester University Catholic Chaplaincy, where the relics of Thérèse were also venerated. The picture will also go to the Bishopric of the Forces. Adamus says that he has yet to hear from the other dioceses. In one case, the bishop said he didn’t want it, but would leave it open to his council for priests.

“It’s building up to be a nice kind of low-key initiative with quite profound symbolism behind it,” Adamus says. “One of the things I was really keen to take this on was because the image specially consecrated and commissioned in 2004 and because it’s been formally consecrated against the tilma it therefore has relic status.

“Because of its commissioning and consecration and it is one of 220, the intention is there is one for every country that requests it even though it’s got in through the back door in England, as it were.

“And the overriding incentive, or mission, behind these images is to fulfill the prophecy of John Paul II when he visited Mexico in 1979. He said that the light of the Gospel of Christ will illumine the whole world through the means of this image. By that he meant that the particular graces that are mediated by Our Lady of Guadalupe are particularly powerful and global because she is the patroness of the unborn and the idea being that we can’t all go to Mexico so she comes to us.”

Adamus will have a lot of driving to do in the next few months. He made a promise to Our Lady that he would personally transport the image from place to place. When a diocesan cathedral welcomes the image, he will bring the image there personally. The novena tour ends on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December at Westminster Cathedral. Eventually he hopes the relic might be enthroned in a chapel somewhere as a national shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For him, the image has the potential for preaching and teaching, especially about the notion of England being the Dowry of Mary.

He says: “This is a unique aspect of English Catholicism, which I think goes back to the 14th century. We enjoy this special title as a nation, the Dowry of Mary. Although the history of the Church has been forgotten in this country, and the prevailing tide of secularism and relativism is overwhelming, the title is still there and the innate graces with that title are still there, even if they are not tapped.

“Part of my desire to bring the picture here and make it available to people was to raise awareness of what it means for England to be the Dowry of Mary. What is it about? What is that heritage about? Well, what is a dowry but that kind of material security that a bride brings to a union.

“And with whom is Mary’s marriage? The Holy Spirit. So that must mean in the plan of God England has a very special role to play in this action of the Holy Spirit in the incarnation and bringing the incarnate Christ to the world.”

Adamus says the novena tour fits in well with the fact that he is responsible for promoting marriage and family life in Westminster diocese, because reminding people about the dowry of Mary will also remind us about the importance of marriage.

“We’re revisiting that legacy, that history of our being the dowry of Mary, and maybe that can rejuvenate or reinvigorate a renaissance of appreciation and understanding of the sacrament of marriage as a force for evangelisation, spreading the Gospel of life,” he says.

“I’m trying to get people to see an interweaving array of themes there. It’s not just about it being nice to pray the rosary in front of our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s a bit more profound than that.”

If you wish to host the relic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, please contact Edmund Adamus at [email protected]