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The Almighty has done great things!

October 12, 1992

Homily at America's oldest Marian shrine on fifth centenary of initial evangelization


On Monday, 12 October, the Holy Father went to the city of Higüey in the eastern interior of the Dominican Republic, where he celebrated Mass at the Marian shrine of Altagracia. During the Mass on the fifth centenary of the arrival of the Gospel in the Americas, the Pope preached a homily in Spanish, in which he addressed all sectors of society, speaking of their role in the new evangelization and the continuing inculturation of the Gospel in America.


"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Gal 4:4).

1. These words of the Apostle Paul, dear brothers and sisters, introduce us to the mystery of this Woman, full of grace and goodness, whom generations of Dominicans have come to honour in this basilica where we are gathered today.

Since that far off 1514, the watchful and loving presence of Our Lady of Altagracia has continuously accompanied the beloved children of this whole nation, causing the immense wealth of Christian life to flourish in their hearts through the light and grace of her divine Son.

During my visit to this basilica, I wish to embrace with the love coming from our heavenly Mother each and every one of those present and those from all over the country who are united with us in spirit. My fraternal greeting is addressed to all my brothers in the Episcopate who are with me and especially to the dear Bishops of the Dominican Republic, who prepared for my pastoral visit with so much dedication and care.

From this Marian basilica, the spiritual heart of this island where 500 years ago the preachers of the Gospel arrived, I wish to express my thanks and my affection to the Pastors and the faithful of each Diocese of the republic, beginning with that of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia en Higüey where we are now. My gratitude, expressed in prayer, goes also to the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo, to its Pastor and to the Auxiliary Bishops. I also greet with special affection the Dioceses of Bani, Barahona, La Vega and Mao-Monte Cristi together with their Bishops. Peace and blessing to the Pastors and faithful of San Francisco de Macorís, Santiago de los Caballeros and San Juan de la Maguana. A special greeting, full of affection and gratitude, goes to all the priests, religious and all the other people involved in pastoral activity who, with generosity and sacrifice, devote their lives to the work of the new evangelization.

God entered human history, being born of a woman

2. We are celebrating, dear brothers and sisters, the arrival of the message of salvation on this continent. Thus was it predestined in the plan of the Father who, when the fullness of time had come, sent his Son, born of a woman (cf. Gal. 4:4), as we heard in the second reading of the Mass.

God is beyond and above time, because he is eternity itself in the unfathomable mystery of the blessed Trinity. However, God, so as to be even closer to mankind, decided to enter into time, into human history: by being born of a woman he became Emmanuel, God with us, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold. The Apostle Paul concludes that with the coming of the Saviour, human time reaches its fullness because in Christ history acquires its dimension of eternity.

As we profess in the Creed, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity "was made man through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit". The Angel said to Mary - "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lk 1:35). With the "yes" of the Virgin of Nazareth, Isaiah's prophecy about Emmanuel, God with us, the Saviour of the world, reaches its fullness and completion.

Together with the Angel Gabriel, let us proclaim Mary full of grace in this shrine of Higüey, which is under the protection of Our Lady of Altagracia and which is the first known place of Marian devotion to be built on American soil. All that is seen in the picture of Our Lady of Altagracia is a clear and pure expression of what the Gospel tells us about the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God.

Within the shadow of this basilica a people was formed from the fusion of races and cultures, desires and hopes, successes and defeats, joys and sorrows. The Dominican people were born under the sign of the Virgin Mary, who has protected them throughout the course of their history. As is written in the annals the founders of the nation came to this holy place to find courage and strength; poets, writers and sages came to find inspiration: workers came for rest; the afflicted, the sick and the poor came to find consolation; the repentant came for pardon; and those who feel the ugency of being holy came to find grace and virtue. All this took place under the mantle of Our Lady of Altagracia, she who is full of grace.

3. This shrine, dear Dominicans, is the house where the Blessed Virgin wished to dwell among you as a tender mother, always ready to share the sorrows and joys of this people. To her motherly protection I entrust all the families of this beloved land that love and peace may reign among all its members. The greatness and responsibility of the family consists in its being the first community of life and love, the first circle in which young people learn to love and to feel loved. Every family has received from God the mission to be "the first and vital cell of society" (Apostolicam actuositatem n. 11) and is called on to construct, day by day, its happiness in communion. Thus, as in every living tissue, the health and strength of a society depend on the quality of the families composing it. Therefore, public authorities also have the responsibility for encouraging the family institution, strengthening its stability and defending its rights. Your country must not renounce its tradition of respect and firm support for those values which, cultivated within the family nucleus, are a determinating factor in the moral development of social relationships and form the basis of a society which wishes to be truly human and Christian.

Christian spouses must hand on the faith

It is your responsibility, Christian parents, to create and develop families in which the values of the Gospel are cultivated and expressed. How many signs of death and lack of love characterize our society! How many attacks on marital fidelity and the mystery of life! Do not be misled, Christian spouses, by easy recourse to divorce. Do not allow the flame of life to be snuffed out. True love in marital communion is of necessity expressed in a positive attitude towards life. The practice of contraception is a denial of conjugal love, transforming the gift of being able to participate in God's creative activity into a pure convergence of misguided egoism (cf. Familiaris consortio, nn. 30, 32). How can I fail to repeat yet again on this occasion that if one must not place obstacles to life, even less can those not yet born be eliminated with impunity, as is done in abortion.

For their part, Christian spouses, in virtue of their Baptism, Confirmation and through the sacramental strength of marriage, must hand on the faith and be the leaven of change in society. Fathers and mothers of families, you must be the first catechists and teachers of love to your children. If one does not learn to love and pray in the family, it is difficult to make up for this deficiency later on. With how much fervour I ask God that young Dominicans may find in their families the Christian witness that will strengthen their faith amd support them in times of difficulty and crisis!

4. Young Dominicans! I ask Our Lady of Altagracia to strengthen you in your faith, to lead you to Jesus Christ because it is only in him that you will find the answer to your anxieties and hopes: he alone can satisfy your heart's thirst. The Christian faith teaches us that working for a more just society is worth the effort; that it is important to defend the innocent, the oppressed and the poor; that it is worthwhile to sacrifice oneself so that the civilization of love may triumph. You are the youth of the Continent of Hope. May the difficulties that you experience not create an obstacle to your love and generosity but rather a challenge to your will to serve. You must be strong and courageous, clear-headed and persevering. Do not let yourselves be misled by hedonism, escapism, drugs, violence or the thousands of reasons which seem to justify them. You are the young people who are on a pilgrimage to the Third Millennium and you must prepare yourselves to be the men and women of the future, responsible and active in the social, cultural, political and ecclesial structures of your country so that, formed by the Spirit of Christ and by your creativity in finding original solutions, you may contribute to promoting an ever more human and Christian development.

5. As I am in a rural area of the republic, I turn my thoughts especially to the men and women of the fields. You, dear campesinos, cooperate in the work of creation, making the earth produce the fruits which serve to nourish your families and the whole community. Through your toil and fatigue you offer society the goods necessary for survival. Therefore I appeal to the authorities' sense of justice and solidarity to use all the means available to them to resolve the problems which afflict the agricultural sector today so that farm workers and their families may live in the dignity corresponding to their status as workers and children of God. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, so deeply rooted in the piety of those who work the land, marks their life with a rich sense of humanity and a Christian concept of life because the hopes of those who place their trust in God are found in Mary. She is like the synthesis of the Gospel and she shows us that, "it is by faith and in faith... that the people of God express in words and translate into life the mysterious plan of salvation with its liberating effects upon individual and social existence" (Libertatis conscientia, n. 97).


Mary is also Star of new evangelization

6. "God sent his Son born of a woman" (Gal 4:4).

Mary is the woman who, by accepting with faith the word of God and indissolubly uniting her life with that of her Son, became the "first and most perfect follower of Christ" (Marialis cultus, n. 35). For this reason, in circumstances such as those of the present day, while insistent secularism tends to stifle the faith of Christians, denying any reference to the transcendent, the figure of Mary stands out as an example and an incentive for today's believers, reminding them of the urgent necessity of expressing their acceptance of the Gospel through practical, concrete actions in their family, professional and social life (cf. Christifideles laici, n. 2). In fact, as believers, the Dominican laity are called on to make the Gospel values present in the various sectors of the life and culture of their people. It is precisely their Christian vocation that makes them live in the midst of temporal realities as builders of peace and harmony, always cooperating in the common good of the nation. Everyone must promote justice and solidarity in the fields of their concrete social responsibilities: in the economic sector, in trade unions and political activity, in the area of culture, in the media and in charitable and educational work. All are called to cooperate in the great task of the new evangelization.

Today as yesterday, Mary must also be the Star of this new evangelization to which the universal Church, and especially the Church in Latin America, feels called in celebration of her 500 years of Christian faith. In fact, the proclamation of the Gospel in the New World was accomplished "by presenting the Virgin Mary as its loftiest fulfilment" (Puebla, n. 282). Throughout these five centuries, Marian devotion has been a fundamental factor of evangelization because Mary is the Gospel transformed into life. She is the highest and most perfect fulfilment of the Christian message, the model that all must follow. As the Latin American Bishops gathered in Puebla de los Angeles stated, "without Mary, the Gospel is stripped of flesh and blood and is distorted into an ideology, into a spiritualistic rationalism" (Puebla, n. 301).

7. "The Mighty One has done great things for me" (Lk 1:49). Thus Mary proclaims in the Magnificat. She, Our Lady of Altagracia, delivers us to the Saviour of the world and, as the new Eve, becomes indeed "the mother of all the living" (Gn 3:20). In the Mother of God "the fullness of time" began to take place when "God sent his Son, born of a woman,... so that we might receive adoption" (Gal 4:4-5). Emmanuel, God with us, continues to be a new and wonderful reality which allows us to address God as Father because Mary entrusts us to him so that we may become his adopted children: "children in his Son".

"As proof that you are children", Saint Paul writes, "God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, `Abba Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God" (Gal 4:6-7). This is the great truth the Apostle proclaimed in our Eucharistic celebration: adoptive filiation in receiving divine life. Therefore our lips can repeat the same words: "Father... our Father", because it is the Holy Spirit who inspires them in our hearts.

Let us say a special prayer for Cuba

8. Altagracia! The grace that overcomes sin, evil and death. The great gift of God spreads among the people of the New World, who five centuries ago listened to the words of life and received the grace of Baptism. It is a gift meant for everyone, without exception, which goes beyond race, language and social status. If there is anyone whom God favours, it is the simple, the humble and the poor in spirit.

We are all called to be adoptive children of God because "for freedom, Christ set us free" (Gal 5:1): free from the slavery of sin!

Mother of God! Virgin of Altagracia! Show the paths of Emmanuel, our Saviour, to all your sons and daughters on the Continent of Hope so that in this fifth centenary of its evangelization, the faith received may bear fruit in works of justice, peace and love.


At the end of the Mass the Pope asked for a special prayer for Cuba, speaking in Spanish as follows:

I ask you to pray for Cuba; I want to assure the Cubans that I offer this prayer every day, as I do for each and every one of the other countries of America, Central America and Latin America.

Let us say a special prayer for Cuba.

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