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OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE – Feastday December 12

Padre Martinez was in charge of la iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Taos, New Mexico from 1826 until 1858.  When he was first assigned there, it was an asistencia of the main parish church of San Geronimo located at the nearby Taos Pueblo. Guadalupe Church did not formally gain parish status until 1842.  Nevertheless, it is one of the oldest churches  dedicated to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe that is continually functioning as a Catholic church (now for over two centuries) in the United States.   

The first Guadalupe Church in Taos was constructed around 1802 at the La Plaza de Don Fernando.  It fell into serious disrepair, but was used until 1911 when it was replaced by another building in time for New Mexico statehood in early 1912. [My two older brothers–Airforce Major J. Tobias Romero (retired) and Rev. C. Gilbert Romero, Ph. D. were baptized at that venerable church.]   That church was sadly destroyed by fire in the summer of 1961 a few months after joyful ordination of Father Gilbert, fifty years ago this past April 25.]  A third church, phoenix-like, rose from its ashes within a year and located across the road from the original location.  
I have served as a priest at three different California parishes dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe: one in Santa Barbara, another in La Habra, and more recently in Palm Springs. Precisely one hundred years ago today, the leadership of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs signed a document with twelve signatures thereby donating choice land to the Diocese of San Diego to be used for worship.  The church built on that land is today’s Guadalupe Church in Palm Springs.  Congratulations on the Centennial!

According to the story of Guadalupe, Mary appeared to the Indian Juan Diego a few consecutive times towards the end of 1531.  Very early in the morning of December 12, she appeared again and encouraged this unschooled and yet unbaptized catechumen and urged him to take her message to Bishop Zumaraga that a church in her honor be built on the spot upon which she was appearing.  It was Tepeyac Hill in today’s Mexico City.  The actual location was the site of the goddess Tonantzin, goddess of fertility sacred to the Aztecs.
Just as Blessed Mary “took over” the cult that had been rendered to Artemis in Ephesus (Cf. Acts 19:23, sq.), so also does Mary under the title of Guadalupe take over the cult that had been rendered to Tonantzin. In Catholic theology, Mary is not a goddess, but is the mother of Jesus Christ true God as well as true man.  He was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary,” as the Apostle’s Creed states.  Therefore, she can rightfully be called the “Mother of God.” 
Only ten years after the noche triste of 1521 that inaugurated the Spanish conquest, Mary appeared in the center of the new world—the American continent– not as a Spaniard nor as an Indian, but as the mestiza (racially mixed) brown virgin.  “Am I not your mother?” she assures Juan Diego, and then invited him to be her  ambassador before the Bishop.
Catholic faithful and others (Catholics who are not so “faithful” as well as many non-Catholics, including some non Christians) have a devotion to the mother of Jesus especially under the title of Guadalupe.  To Spanish ears, that name sounded like a name already familiar to them.  At the Monastery of Guadalupe in Extramadura, home to many of the conquistadores, there was a “black Virgin” widely venerated.  However, the similar-sounding word in Nahuatl is translated as “she who crushes the head of the serpent”–understood as a reference to Genesis 3:15.  This biblical citation is “The First Good News” or Protoevangelium.  Immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve, God spoke to Satan in the form of the serpent and told him that the offspring of the woman (Eve) would crush the head of the serpent, but in the process, the “offspring” of the serpent would in turn wound the heel of the woman’s offspring’s.  This text was the earliest foundation for messianic HOPE that prophets, speaking in the name of the Lord, helped to specify.   Christian interpretation of that text understands  “the woman’s offspring” first of all as the human race (Eve is “mother of all the living”), then as the Jewish people, and finally as Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Mary, Son of God. 
In the middle of the Basilica of Guadalupe, the imprint of Mary’s image on Juan  Diego’s tilma  is preserved and venerated as a holy icon.  It is appropriately  flanked by the the flags of  every nation of the continent of America.  Mexico City is the approximate geographical center of the continent of the new world.  My confrere Father Virgil Elizondo likes to point out, “Just as Mary of Nazareth gave birth to Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, so also Mary of Nazareth–with her apparitions to Juan Diego– gave birth to Jesus Christ in the new world of America.”  She is the primary  evangelizer of America, the continent.


In the second century, St. Polycarp, grand-disciple of St. John the Evangelist, wrote with sadness to the people of Philippi that St. Paul had evangelized and to whom he had written a beautiful letter.  The sadness was about a priest, and his wife, who had “hung up his collar” before there was such a thing as clerical dress.

Here is what Polycarp says:
“I am greatly saddened on account of Valens who at one time was presbyter among you…be chaste and honest…avoid avarice…greed….I am deeply sorry for Valens and for his wife; may the Lord grant them true repentence.”
It seems that dishonesty, unchastity, avarice and greed were the public sins of this former presbyter, and it seems that he walked away from ministry as opposed to being asked to leave.  The following sentence is instructive and an example for us on how to treat “fallen” or wayward priests.  
“…invite them back as frail members who have gone astray, so that the entire body of which you are a part will be saved.”
We are still connected to each other in and through the Body of Christ, even if one or another goes astray—even a priest!  They are not to be cast out, but invited back so that all of us can be saved.  Powerful ecclesiology and soteriology, fancy words for the study of the Church and of Salvation!
(Quoted from the Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV, Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, pp. 327-28)


After such a long hiatus, I write this post on October 4, the feast of St. Francis who is patron of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Last week I was in Taos for a meeting with Vicente Martínez and Robert Torrez, former state historian of New Mexico.  We are collaborating on a publication-project about the life and legacy of Padre Martinez, Cura de Taos.  It was my joy to remain in Taos for a week, and concelebrate the 6 AM Mass at San Geronimo Pueblo on occasion of their patron feast of St. Jerome, September 30.  

In the August 2011 issue of People of God, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan addressed the scandal that comes from “prominent priests who have turned out to have serious difficulties.”  The Archbishop in no way justifies any wrong-doing in which high-profile men of the cloth may have been been involved, but he also affirms with certainty, “… it is not our place to judge these men who did a great deal of good in their priestly lives despite the failings that have come to light.  We must be grateful for the spiritual blessings they have brought to many people.” 

This non-judgmental attitude, regarding the morality or sinfulness of priests who have not lived up to their spiritual commitments or promises, applies as well to Padre Antonio José Martínez in regard to his public conflict with his bishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy, or in regard to any alleged moral failings. 
The concluding exhortations of Archbishop Sheehan are pertinent today as they were in the time of his episcopal predecessor and Padre Martinez: Do not put your “faith in the bishop or priest, but in Jesus and the Eucharist!  We human beings do the best we can, but sometimes we fail….Put your faith in Chist and the Sacraments of our Church so that your faith can never be disappointed and you will never be scandalized.”
Vicente Martinez of Taos, part-time resident of Florida, has done significant research in recent years on the progeny of Padre Martinez.  It will be part of the documentation on the Padre’s Last Will and Testament that will accompany an annotated 1877 Biography by Santiago Valdez of Padre Martinez, and an 1840 Autobiography.  I have had the privilege on assisting in the research and writing of this coming publication to which Father Tom Steele, SJ has contributed so much scholarship.  May he rest in peace!  Mr. Robert Torrez is Father Steele’s “anointed” successor as editor of the publication-project that may be out within a year, perhaps by the end of the centennial of New Mexico’s statehood.  The publication-project purports to deal with the life and accomplishments of Padre Antonio José Martínez, “warts and all” (Vicente Martinez) “within their context, but without excuses.” (Fr. Juan Romero)  Stay tuned!


A year ago today, I literally fell into the river.  It was a great day to do so–the feast of San Juan Bautista.  All over Latin America, especially in such places as Puerto Rico with its capital named after the Saint, people celebrate the feast by contact with water.  By going to the beach, river, swimming hole or bath tub/shower, they symbolically renew their baptisms.

Jesuit Priest Louis Tempe came to visit me in Palm Springs.  He wanted to interview me about the Tercer Encuentro Hispano Pastoral for which I was the national coordinator from 1984-1985.  The consultative process sponsored by the American Bishops lasted for several years culminated in a summer event that took place at Catholic University in Washington, DC.  It resulted in a national pastoral plan for Spanish speaking Catholics in this country, and has been implemented with various degrees of success. 
In any event, after the interview, I took him to tour the cool springs at Indian Canyon.  The Agua Caliente Tribe of Cahuilla Indians for centuries have used their hot springs–where today is located the Spa Hotel in Palm Springs –in the winter.  During the summers and during warm wather, they went to the cool springs in the canyon.
 During the guided tour I was giving, I got a little too close to the edge.  It was an unintended occasion for the renewal of my own baptismal promises.


All fatherhood is from God.  One of the greatest privileges believers of all faiths have is to address God as ABBA,  the Aramaic word connoting tenderness and love that is better translated “daddy” or “tata Dios.”  Jesus taught us to pray the famous prayer addressing God as OUR FATHER.  Jesus Christ is always, from all eternity, in relationship to His heavenly Father, and invites us to share in the same relationship through adoption–Gods’ grace freely given by which we are also children of God.  Through Baptism, we become little brothers and sisters of our elder brother Jesus Christ, and of one another.  In liturgy, we pray TO THE FATHER, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

Our human fathers are sometimes flawed, sometimes they are almost saints.  Whatever they are, they deserve our honor: “Honor thy father and thy mother,” the Fourth Commandment obliges.

Antonio Jose Martinez experienced human fatherhood.  As a very young man of 19, he got married, and within the year had a daughter who shared her mother’s name: Maria de La Luz.  Mother died in childbirth, and after a few years, Antonio Jose left his daughter in the care of her maternal grandparents in Abiquiu–it is strongly supposed–while he went to Durango to pursue an education.  In 1824, a couple of years after returning to New Mexico as an ordained priest, he was assigned to the parish of Santo Tomas in Abiquiu.  He had been baptized there in 1793, married there in 1812, buried his wife there in 1813 and had his daughter baptized there in the same year.  He was there for only a short time before his daughter died at the young age of eleven going on twelve.  Padre Martinez remained in his ancestral home of Abiquiu–although he had lived in Taos since he was eleven– for a total of about two years before returning to Taos in 1826 to become the priest in charge of the parish of San Geronimo at the Indian Pueblo.  The parish church included several chapels in the large surrounding area, including the church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe to which he would remain related for forty-two years until his death in 1867.

Antonio Jose Martinez was blessed in the lives of his wife and daughter, both named Maria de La Luz Martinez, who died all too-soon.  One of the flawed dimensions of the life of Padre Martinez is the fact that he had children after becoming a priest.  For a priest of the Western (Latin) Rite to marry is forbidden by the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is not divine law, nor has it always been the custom.

The mother of his post-priesthood children, Teodora Romero, was a young woman who became a widow and bereaved mother when she lost her husband and daughter in 1826, the same year Padre Antonio Jose Martinez came to Taos as the priest-in-charge of Guadalupe Church.  Within four years, this couple had a son by the name of George, not Jorge, in honor–it is said–of George Washington for whom Padre Martinez had great regard.  The cornerstone of the Washington Capitol was laid in the same year of 1793 that Padre Martinez was born.

There were other children Padre Martinez fathered, and we will treat them in this blog on other occasions.  Two others, however, are worthy of special mention at this time: Santiago Valdez and Vicente Romero.  Valdez was an orphan brought up by a Valdez family in Taos.  The Martinez family of the Padre holds to a strong oral tradition that Padre Martinez was his actual father.  In his Last Will and Testament of 1867, reviewed and renewed shortly before he died, Padre Martinez left his books,  library and some property to Santiago Valdez.  In addition, he indicated that it was his will that this familiar (relative, or member of his extended family) and his children bear the name Martinez.  Most of them did.  Ten years after the death of Padre Martinez, Santiago Valdez wrote a biography of the Padre, Biografia del Presbitero Antonio Jose Martinez, Cura de Taos.  It is a manuscript in Spanish, never published up to the present, located within the Ritch Collection at the Huntington Library near Los Angeles.  This blog will furnish a summary and generous excerpts among its coming attractions.

Vicente Ferrer Romero is the youngest child of Padre Martinez, fourteen years junior to Santiago Valdez.  He came of age during the tensions and serious conflicts between Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy and Padre Martinez.  The Taos priest considered himself a journalist, and had many opinions about many things.  He had founded the short-lived newspaper El Crepusculo de La Libertad  (only six issues), and was friendly with the publisher of  La Gaceta de Santa Fe who was a former (anti-slavery)  Presbyterian minister.  In this and other venues, Padre Martinez publicized his disagreements with the bishop’s policies regarding tithing and other matters.  Vicente as a young teenager witnessed the tensions between the bishop and his father, Padre Martinez.  They crested between the years 1856 and 1858, and were marked respectively by the ecclesiastical censures of suspension and excommunication.  (More about these in a future blog.)  Vicente Ferrer Romero, by 1873,  went on to become a very effective lay evangelizer and circuit rider for the Presbyterian faith.  A paper on Padre Martinez and Ecumenism, and another specifically on Vicente F. Romero will also be grist for future treatments in this blog.

In spite of the inner conflict that Padre Martinez must have suffered from having children after becoming a priest, as evidenced in his efforts to obscure his paternity in the baptismal register of Guadalupe parish, it is worth noting that his conflicts with the bishop were totally other.  The moral character of Padre Martinez was never impugned by either Bishop Lamy or his Vicar General and schoolmate, Very Rev.Joseph P. Machebeuf.  Nevertheless, the Catholic members of the Martinez family–not to speak of some of the putative children and their descendants–have felt some shame about being illicitly fathered by a priest.  Moreover, it is most important to note that Padre Martinez never abandoned any of his children.  On the contrary, he loved them, cared for them as he could, and provided well for them in his Will.

On this Fathers’ Day, I wish to conclude this posting with an homenaje to my own father, Jose Tobias Romero.  Born in Taos, he was a shepherd boy during the summers in the mountains of New Mexico.  He married his high school sweetheart, my mother Claudia Garcia, and they had three boys.  We moved to LA as very young children in 1943; Lockheed Aircraft employed dad as a machine accountant (“tabulating”).   Mom died in 1969, and a little over a year later, dad went to the Claretian seminary, was ordained a priest in 1975, and served as a priest for 22 years before going to the Lord in 1996.  This Taoseno was married as a young man, had children, became a widower, went to the seminary and was ordained a priest.  There was absolutely no stigma in this.  On the contrary, it was an occasion for surprise and some adulation.  Pray for us, dad.  !Que en paz descanse!  God bless all of our fathers, grandfathers, godparents, and all priests who have brought blessings to our lives.


Praise and THANKS to God for several things!  I am grateful for my recovering health after a summer heart attack, for retrieving this web log about Padre Martinez, and for recent developments that are about to yield fruit.  These include a documentary film about the Cura de Taos, a new history-biography of the Padre, and a new book about Taos that includes at least one essay on Padre Martinez.

I had a heart attack in mid August, on my way to Santa Fe for a meeting of scholars convoked by lawyer Michael Olivas (promoting the on-line digitalization of materials pertaining to Padre Martinez).  My triple by-pass surgery at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque was followed by a brief time of recuperation with relatives in Taos.  I am now at Palm Springs, slowly getting better and beginning to do some writing.  This is my first contribtion to the blog for too long a time.
Documentary film maker Paul Espinosa, with the help of various contributors, is revising a script for a film on Padre Martinez. His credits include US-MEXICAN WAR: 1846-1848, shown on PBS several years ago.  In the new year, the script will be submitted to the National Endowment for the Humanities for production funding.  The working title was the DAWNING OF LIBERTY, but is now called LIBERATNG OUR AMERICA.
Eminent Jesuit scholar of things New Mexican is putting finishing touches on a significant work on the LIFE AND TIMES OF PADRE MARTINEZ.  Robert Torrez, a former state historian, will become general editor of the book.  He has several collaborators, and the opus will likely be published as a one-volume English text of over 500 pages.  It will include never-before published materials copiously annotated with interesting footnotes.   The plan is that the work will include the following: 1840 Autobiography, 1867 Last Will and Testament, and 1877 Biography by Santiago Valdez.  I expect that the University of New Mexico Press will publish the book by 2012, the centenniel of New Mexican Statehood. This would be appropriate in light of the fact that, in 1846, Padre Martinez became the first New Mexican to swear alligience as a citizen of the new territory belonging to the USA.
Corrina Santistevan, Doña Eufemia (award) recepient,  is writing the last chapter of the new HISTORY OF TAOS whose publication she has been coordinating and promoting.  As I understand, it is an anthology of essays.  Corrina asked me to contribute the essay on the enegmatic role of Padre Martinez with the Penitentes.