Q. What do we celebrate on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe?
A. In the 16th Century, Spanish missionaries accompanied the conquistador Hernán Cortés as he entered the land of Mexico, the home of the Aztecs. Upon arrival, the Spaniards discovered that the Aztec religious observances involved the gruesome and abominable practice of offering human sacrifice, including child sacrifice, to their gods.
Eventually, through the courage and tenacity of the Spaniards, the idols were removed from the pagan temples and human sacrifice had stopped. However, the missionaries found it difficult to convert the native population to Christianity. It was challenging to convince them that Jesus did not just come to save the Spanish people, He came to save all people.
On December 9, 1531, in Mexico City, Juan Diego, a poor, Aztec man and new convert to Christianity, was on his way to Mass when he heard beautiful singing and saw the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill, the site of a former Aztec Temple. Struck by her beauty, he fell to his knees, and Mary told him to tell the local bishop to build a shrine on Tepeyac Hill.
Juan Diego went to Bishop Zumárraga, the bishop of Mexico, and gave him the Blessed Mother’s request. Bishop Zumárraga said that he would need a sign as proof that this request was truly from the Mother of God.
On Dec. 12, the Blessed Virgin Mary instructed Juan Diego to climb the top of a hill where he would find Castilian roses. He was skeptical because it would be unlikely that such flowers would bloom in December.
Juan obediently climbed the mountain, and much to his surprise, found Castilian Roses. Thinking that the roses were surely the sign that will satisfy the Bishop, Juan quickly rolled them up in his tilma, or cloak.
Juan brought the flowers to the bishop and as he opened his tilma and the roses cascaded to the floor, the bishop fell to his knees and tears ran down his face. Appearing before him was the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the image, the Blessed Virgin Mary stands as an Aztec woman. Her head is bowed and her hands are 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. Below her feet is a crescent moon, a symbol of the old Aztec religion. The message was clear: she is more powerful than the Aztec gods, yet she herself is not God.
After this miraculous occurrence, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary spread throughout the land of Mexico. Massive numbers of Mexicans had converted to the Catholic faith. By 1548, approximately nine million people were baptized in the land.
Today, the tilma can be viewed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and it is perhaps the most convincing evidence that Mary truly appeared to Juan Diego. Throughout the years, scientists have studied it, and have made astonishing discoveries.
Among the many wonders of this image is the fact that the tilma is woven out of cactus fibers, which should have disintegrated after 30 years; it has lasted 485 years. Infrared photography indicates that there are no brushstrokes on the image, giving evidence that it was not painted on the cloak. The scientific investigation concluded that no animal or mineral elements were used in the coloration of the image.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated Dec. 12. St. Juan Diego was canonized in 2002. His feast day is celebrated Dec. 9.
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