People with a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe have fewer health issues related to stress, a study by the University of Alabama has said.
“This drives home how important faith is. In the study results, I found that people who are exposed to stress – their well-being goes down over time. Those who were Guadalupan devotees broke that pattern,” explained Rebecca Read-Wahidi, the study’s author.
She grew up in Forest, where the state’s largest concentration of Latinos works in poultry plants. They worship at St. Michael or at its mission San Martin.
A community of religious sisters, Guadalupan Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, ministers to the mix of Mexicans, Guatemalans and other Latin Americans. The sisters teach English, host consulates and even offer workshops in what to do if people are stopped by police or immigration agents.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is more than just a mother figure to her people, she is their mother. Read-Wahidi said most of the devotees she interviewed have conversations with her throughout the day.
Mary “listens to their worries,” said Sister Lourdes Gonzalez, a member of the Guadalupan Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, who helped with the study. “It’s a way to pray. People talk to her as if she is alive and in the room. She has a special place in the family.”
Father Tim Murphy, pastor at St James Parish in Tupelo, calls the relationship profound and inspiring. “She is their mother in faith, in heaven and is present to them,” he said.
This connection to the poor may be why people see Mary as the perfect intercessor. “They may not feel comfortable talking to God — but they can speak to the Virgin. She is the mother figure. When they are so far from home, they need a mother figure,” Read-Wahidi said.
She wrote in a journal article that immigrants place their stress in Mary’s hands: “When I asked what people petition the Virgin to help them with, they mentioned: finding work and keeping their jobs, not getting deported or arrested, the health of their family back in Mexico and here in the United States, the safety of family members who were making the journey across the border, and their own safe return back home.”
These prayers offer relief from the stress of their everyday lives. “They are seen as outsiders. They are not equal (here). They have the experience of racism. It is a way to remind themselves that in the eyes of the Virgin, all people are equal,” said Read-Wahidi. This idea has spread to other immigrants through public celebrations surrounding the feast.
Every year on or around the December 12 feast day, immigrants across Mississippi leave the safety of their homes and churches to take their mother to the streets and celebrate her love and protection.
Celebrations include processions, hours-long traditional Aztec dances, meals and liturgy. Everyone, especially other immigrants are welcome. In this way, the celebration in America is unique. Instead of being only a Mexican feast, it is a feast for all.
“They make the celebration public — it is taken out into the streets. It gives the Mexican community a chance to share her (the Virgin). They enjoy seeing other people embrace her,” explained Read-Wahidi.