AP Nahuatl Incense Procession Basilica of Guadalupe
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
A woman wearing traditional indigenous dress carries incense as a procession enters the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City on October 13, 2015. The Basilica celebrated its first ever Mass in the indigenous language of Nahuatl that day.

First Mass in Nahuatl Held in Mexico’s Most Important Shrine

Rick Kearns

For the first time in Mexican history mass was said in the country’s predominant indigenous language, Nahuatl, in the church dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe who, according to legend, appeared to Juan Diego and spoke to him in Nahuatl. Diego was Mexico’s first indigenous saint.

“God wants to speak to the people in their own language,” said Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel on October 13 in the Basilica of Guadelupe, in Mexico City, considered to be the most important Catholic shrine in the country.

Bishop Arizmendi Esquivel gave his sermon in Spanish and it was simultaneously translated into Nahuatl, which has more than 1.5 million speakers throughout the country.  In the homily, he lamented the treatment of indigenous people in Mexico and emphasized how important they are to the nation.

“Instead of accepting, respecting, valuing and promoting the culture of our indigenous people, in particular their language, we have despised and disparaged them; we have characterized their languages as if they were dialects, part of some subcultures,” he said.

“God, the virgin and the church, we all need them,” Bishop Arizmendi Esquivel said about the indigenous people.  “Mexico is not Mexico without them; they are us.”

Along with the sermon, all of the prayers, readings, hymns and praise songs were translated into Nahuatl for the service.  There were also some native dances that brought the bishops, priests and some church members to their feet to dance with the indigenous presenters.

The mass in Nahuatl came together after four years of work involving translators from different dioceses and religious congregations. The mass was officiated by Archbishop Victor Sanchez of Puebla, who is also the President of the Episcopal Commission, and the homily was given by Bishop Arizmendi Esquivel.

People from different Nahuatl-speaking communities attended the mass coming from the cities of Puebla, Veracruz, Jalisco, as well as Mexico City.

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