The Virgin of Guadalupe and Roy Moore's political defeat in Alabama are two miracles that share more than a common date.
Guadalupe appeared December 12, 1531, in Mexico, and some 486 years later, people there, in Central America and even parts of the southwestern United States still give thanks for her 16th-century intercession.
Two weeks ago, on the Day of the Virgin, much of the U.S. and the world breathed a sigh of relief when Judge Moore's planned ascendance to the U.S. Senate was interrupted by the electorate.
While election clerks counted ballots in Alabama, our city's changing and dynamic demography was on full display at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Central Avenue. The packed cathedral celebrated the apparition of the Virgin with songs, prayer, processions, and a Catholic mass spoken and sung solely in Spanish.
Rev. Francisco González, an auxiliary bishop from Spain who is based in Washington, D.C., delivered a sermon that was peaceful yet political. He reminded the crowd that "God doesn't ask for a Green Card when he invites you into Heaven." On a cold Tuesday night, the warmth and tranquility within the building was moving, memorable — particularly to this writer, a lapsed Catholic of divergent doctrine, beyond redemption.
According to legend, Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary incarnate, appeared to a poor boy named Juan Diego on a hillside outside Mexico City. She arrived in Mexico at a time of existential political crisis, exactly 10 years after the Aztec Empire collapsed due mainly to a Spanish military incursion. Through Juan Diego, she instructed the Mexican people to persevere, and to accept the new social order with resignation.
By today's standards, that message sounds defeatist. Cynics see the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe as one of the great hoaxes in history. Others offer a more nuanced view and accept the Virgin as part of the long term restructuring of society that continues to this day. Miraculously, Mexico has held together, for better or worse, since the Virgin's visit 486 years ago.
Some of the same dynamics were present in Alabama, where Moore's loss is still nothing short of miraculous. Few people expected Moore, an Evangelical Christian dogged by sexual abuse allegations, to lose. But the voters there were more motivated by Christ's "Sermon on the Mount" than the candidate's mandates against gay people and against Muslims. And then there's the truly zany speech by Kayla Moore on the eve of the election when she told a bemused crowd, "One of our attorneys is a Jew!" The statement — the delivery — must have been lifted from central casting on a Mel Brooks movie set. But it wasn't.
The strong turnout and organization by the state's African-American voters was no miracle. It was the result of a fed up electorate unwilling to accept Moore in the U.S. Senate. With 26 percent of the state's population, these voters delivered Doug Jones' victory and left Moore seething. He has yet (as of this writing, on December 20th) to concede the race.
The lessons from Alabama are simple and clear: People who have been pushed to the margins in a political system that favors the rich and the well-connected can and will fight back. People don't need Moore's brand of disapprobation and false moralism. They need better public schools, a higher minimum wage, and wider access to effective, affordable health care.
The 16th century Mexican miracle taught resignation after an overwhelming military defeat followed by the gradual development of a new sociopolitical structure. The December 12, 2017 miracle in Alabama offers a different set of lessons. It shows people will organize and resist through the established political process. When astoundingly unfit candidates appear, it's only a matter of time before the voters make them disappear.
Michael J. LaRosa is a Rhodes College professor.