The year was 1531, only 12 years after the Conquistadors arrived in Mexico to find the native Aztec-Nahuatl people still sacrificing tens of thousands of people a year to the gods of Sun and Night who they believed had the power to keep the sun in the sky.Into this brutal and savage world Our Lady chose to appear to a 57 year old Indian named Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill in present day Mexico City where a pagan temple once stood. She asked that a church be built on the spot, but when Juan took this request to the local bishop, he was told to ask the Lady for a sign, which she promised to send on December 12, 1531. But Juan’s uncle fell ill on that day and while Juan was en route to the local priest, Our Lady intercepted him at the base of the hill.
“Listen and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son!” she told him. “Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety, or pain. Am I not here who am 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 you need?” Pausing she added, “At this moment your uncle is cured.”
She then instructed him to go to a particular spot on the hill and gather a cluster of Castilian roses in his tilma which she arranged with her own hand. Later, when Juan unfolded his tilma full of roses before the bishop, he was startled to see a perfect image of Our Lady formed upon it. The image was a pictorial message to the Indians, whose language was mainly pictures. She stood in front of the sun, a sign that she was greater than the sun god whom they worshipped, and the crescent beneath her feet showed that their moon god was also less than her because she was standing upon it. Being portrayed with a young child holding her aloft meant she was not from this world and the small black cross at her throat was the emblem of the Spanish friars. In one fell swoop, she destroyed their serpent god. The title of Guadalupe is phonetically similar to the Aztec word coatlaxopueh, which means “she who breaks, stamps or crushes the serpent” – which is how she is depicted as the Immaculate Conception, a dogma that would not be officially proclaimed until 1854. Within seven years, seven million Indians converted to Christianity.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has been honored by 25 Popes and has been declared the patroness of the Americas and the unborn. Pope John Paul II said of this image on his visit to Mexico, in imitation of the words of St. Elizabeth on the visitation of Mary to her home, “Oh, America, why have you been so blessed that the Mother of our God should visit you in such a manner!”
Reread the words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego. What part of them speaks most deeply to your heart? Ponder these words and journal your reflections. Pope John Paul II highlights the great favor that God has bestowed on the Americas through Our Lady’s apparition in Mexico. If you could address the nations which comprise the continent, what would you say and why?