On December 12 we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was December 9, 1531, when Mary appeared to a man called Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, in Mexico. A poor Aztec Indian, who had been raised in line with the Aztec pagan religion, Juan had converted to Catholicism when a group of twelve Franciscan missionaries arrived in Mexico in 1524. Juan was very committed to his new life and would walk long distances to receive religious instruction at the Franciscan mission station at Tlatelolco.
On that morning of December 9, he was on his way to attend Mass when suddenly he heard beautiful music wafting through the air. On the hill was a glowing cloud and within a beautiful Indian girl dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and introduced herself as the mother of God.
She told him to go to the bishop of Mexico and tell him to build a church there where she stood, which was the site of a former pagan temple. She promised, “I will show and offer all of my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection to my people.”
A Miracle and Sign
Juan did as he was asked but the bishop was skeptical and asked for a sign that the message really was from Our Lady. In response, during another appearance to Juan three days later, Mary told him to climb to the top of the hill and gather some flowers although it was winter, and nothing should be in bloom. Juan found them and Mary helped arrange them in his cloak.
When Juan returned to the bishop’s residence, the latter recognised the flowers as exotic Castilian roses which are not native to Mexico. Even more miraculous was the fact that the cloak had been imprinted with the image of Mary. The bishop knelt in homage and agreed that the church would be built.
The bishop initially kept Juan’s imprinted cloak in his private chapel, but then placed it on public display in the church built on Tepeyac Hill the next year. In the image, Mary stands as she appeared, a native princess, head bowed, and hands folded in prayer to God. On her blue cloak, the stars are arranged as they appeared in the morning darkness at the hour of her first apparition. Under her feet is a great crescent moon, a symbol of the old Aztec religion. The message is clear; she is more powerful than the Aztec gods, yet she herself is not God.
The Biggest Conversion
The first miracle surrounding the cloak occurred during the procession to the hill when a participant was wounded in the throat by an arrow shot in celebration. He was carried before the miraculous image of Mary and was healed.
Juan moved into a little hermitage at Tepeyac and lived a solitary life of prayer and work. He remained there until his death on December 9, 1548, seventeen years after the first apparition.
Within the context of the often-cruel treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards, the apparition was a rebuke, while at the same time a condemnation of the Aztec human sacrifices to the gods. In the course of seven years, 6,000,000 Indians converted to Catholicism. This was the biggest conversion in the history of the Church!
During the revolutions in Mexico, at the beginning of the 20th century, nonbelievers attempted to destroy the image with an explosion. The altar’s marble steps, the flower holders, and the basilica windows were all very damaged, but the pane of glass protecting Our Lady was not even cracked.
Today the image is preserved behind an impenetrable glass screen in the Basilica in Mexico. The image is also depicted in the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Basilica. Here, Mary is shown surrounded by the people of the North, Central, and South Americas, carrying lighted candles in procession. The walls of the chapel are curved to imitate the experience of the apparition.
On May 6, 1990, Juan Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Hear and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son.
Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you;
Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance.
Do not fear vexation, anxiety, or pain.
Am I not here, your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of Life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle,
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else that you need?
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan