Our Lady of Guadalupe Church members fight to restore mural of Mexican patron saint

This afternoon, a group of about thirty Catholics from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in North Denver marched into the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Their mission? To deliver a letter asking the archbishop for a third time to restore the church's mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which the church priest covered with a wall a year ago.

"The whole idea of having her locked in a dirty closet behind a wall for a ridiculous reason with nails and holes punched in her image is unbearable," says Mike Wilzoch, a former parishoner and union organizer who is acting as spokesman for Faithful United, a group formed to fight for the mural.

The church priest, Father Benito Hernandez, ordered that the colorful, decades-old mural be covered last December. A painting on the ceiling of God (pictured above) was also covered, as were angels painted on the walls.

In a statement released today by the archdiocese, Hernandez defends his actions: "The Catholic Church believes that the tabernacle houses the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and as such, should be made the central and primary focal point of any Catholic church's sanctuary."

He adds, "This decision (to cover the mural) was not a denial of the mural's value to the parish's history, or a rejection of the artist's original intent. It simply gave the tabernacle the central focus it deserves."

Faithful United sees it differently. "They said it was because it was a distraction," Wilzoch says. "I don't know if you've ever been to Rome. The Sistine Chapel, you know. Do you think they get distracted there?

"They're basically spitting in our face," he adds.

Faithful United met today with Father Jorge de los Santos, the archdiocese's vicar for Hispanic ministry. The group delivered its message, Wilzoch says, but he's not sure whether it was truly received. "He said, 'This is a parish matter,'" Wilzoch says.

Meanwhile, the archdiocese said in a statement today that it agrees with the decision to cover the mural. "The decision of the pastor to renovate the sanctuary at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish is supported by the majority of the parishioners," says the statement from archdiocese spokeswoman Jeanette DeMelo.

"This group that continues to protest is not representative of the parish as a whole. Archbishop (Charles) Chaput supports the decision of the pastor who has the support of the majority of his parishioners."

Here's the text of the letter from Faithful United:

November 23, 2010

Month of the Holy Souls

Most Reverend Charles Chaput

Archbishop of Denver,

Archbishop, tear down the Guadalupe wall!

It has been one year since the image of the Creator was painted over, the Angels erased, and the wall went up separating the faithful from our venerated patroness Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego. Since its beginning, the wall has only engendered discord and pain in our community.

Besides its palpable, material divisiveness, the wall is an affront to our faith and heritage. As we detailed to you in our letters of September 24th and October 25th, the wall desecrates what we hold sacred, just as it denies and defies Church doctrine as stated by the Pope, Fathers of the Church, and traditional beliefs of the faithful worldwide ("consensus fidelium"). In catechism classes we were taught that these principles we invoke are the pillars of our faith. Are we wrong, Archbishop?

Our group started as soon as the wall went up, when a pious woman approached the pastor of the church with a simple question "Why are you blocking our Saints with a wall?" The pastor, recently ordained, answered "my church is not a teatro (theater)." Good faith attempts made to dialogue with the pastor and your Vicar for Hispanic Ministry went nowhere, as we have stated in our prior correspondence. Your Vicar called our Saints and the Creator as represented in the mural "a distraction," and our people have since been castigated from the pulpit and humiliated even at the time of receiving Holy Communion. On other occasions we were told by church staff that "your faith is warped" and that "you are going to hell."

More recently, we have tried to engage you as the ultimate authority in the Denver community and the Theatine Provincial, the immediate supervisor of the young pastor. Both of you have refused to meet with us to listen to our concerns and resolve this crisis. In your short responses, Archbishop, you indicate your strong support for the pastor. Do you also support the theological and liturgical validity of the thinking that created the wall while removing the face of God from a Catholic Church?

Do you consider this case closed? Are you willing to allow the wall blocking a now defiled image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to remain as an integral part of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church?

When we received the Sacrament of Confirmation, we took seriously the "special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost giving us special strength of the Holy Spirit to defend the faith boldly by word and action as true witnesses of Christ." (Catechism of Catholic Church paragraphs 1302-1303).

Thus, after months of prayer and reflection, and despite many obstacles and humiliations, we remain undeterred in our quest.

Archbishop, we trust that the same Spirit who inspires all of us, also inspires you and guides you with His Seven Gifts to restore unity and peace in our community by bringing the divisiveness of the wall down. On December 12th as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of the Americas, our hope is that you, as our Archbishop, will preside over the festivities unobstructed by walls, but with the beauty of our heritage restored.

Faithful United/Fieles Unidos

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