Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas--North, Central and South. The feast commemorates the day on which she imprinted her image on the tilma, or cloak, of St. Juan Diego, whose feast Catholics celebrated on December 9th.
It is a beautiful story that took place in 1531, a decade after Cortez's conquest of Aztec Mexico, and just 14 years after Martin Luther's publication of his Ninety-Five Theses, the event which precipitated the Protestant Reformation in Europe.
December 9, 1531 is the day on which she first appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian convert to Catholicism and a daily communicant. As his village lay a long way from the nearest church, he was obliged daily to make a lengthy trek that took him over the hill of Tepeyac.
Our Lady appeared to him there and instructed him to tell the Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zummaraga, that she wanted a church built on that site.
"I am the Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God, of Him who gives life.
He is Lord and Creator of heaven and of earth.
I desire that there be built a temple at this place where I want to manifest Him, make him known, give Him to all people through my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection.
I truly am your merciful Mother, your Mother and the Mother of all who dwell in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, and of those who seek and place their trust in me.
Here I shall listen to their weeping and their sorrows. I shall take them all to my heart, and I shall cure their many sufferings, afflictions, and sorrows.
So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Lord Bishop all that you have seen and heard."
One can imagine Juan Diego's incredulity at the unlikely assignment, whose chances of success appeared less than those of his being proclaimed Pope. Nevertheless, he visited the Bishop's residence, somehow gained a brief audience, and conveyed Our Lady's message. One can also imagine the Bishop's perplexity at this messenger who was too humble to be presumptuous, too pious to be false, yet too insignificant to be taken seriously. He sent Juan Diego away.
Juan Diego conveyed the dismissal in his subsequent meeting with the Lady, who instructed him to persist. He went again to the Bishop's residence the following day, managed another audience, and relayed Our Lady's message anew.
At that meeting, Bishop Zumarraga requested a sign from the Lady in order to allay his doubts. Privately, he asked for the sign of Castilian roses, which could not be growing in the Mexican countryside, especially in December. When Juan Diego reported back to the Lady, she instructed him to return the following day, whereupon she would provide him with a sign for the Bishop.
It is here that the story takes a turn for the human, and even comical. Juan Diego's convert uncle, Juan Bernadino, fell gravely ill, and Juan Diego stood Our Lady up in order to remain with him the following day. He set out for the city on December 12th in order to bring a confessor back to hear Juan Bernadino's last confession. So as not to be sidetracked by Our Lady's time consuming--not to mention impossible--requests, he skirted the hill passing around its bottom rather than going over its crest as usual. This way, he hoped to avoid meeting her.
As one might expect, Our Lady descended the hill and intercepted him. One can only imagine his embarrassment and discomfort. She reassured him that Juan Bernadino was at that moment being healed, then took him to the top the hill and instructed him to fill his tilma with the roses that were growing there. She even helped to arrange them.
Juan Diego dutifully visited the Bishop's residence again and reported that he'd brought a sign from Our Lady. When he opened his tilma (which was tied from bottom-to-top in front in order to carry objects like crops) the image of her that we know as Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted on it.
The Bishop's reaction was immediate. He knelt in prayer, and had a chapel built on Tepeyac Hill. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 26, 1531. It has been succeed by many church structures, including two massive basilicas--an old Spanish-style one, which is presently unsafe for public use, and a modern circular cathedral that houses the tilma and permits remarkably close access to it.
A contemporary account of the apparitions, the Nican Mopohua (1545), was written by Don Juan Valeriano. Noman has read it, and had the pleasure of making two pilgrimages to Tepeyac Hill. He can recommend an engrossing and pious telling of the story entitled "The Wonder of Guadalupe," by Francis Johnston.
Our Lady's message is one of solicitude and consolation.
Our Lady's message is one of solicitude and consolation.
Am I not here who am your Mother?The homily at today's mass highlighted two aspects of the apparitions. First, Our Lord chose his greatest saint and most important emissary--his own mother--to deliver his message of faith, hope, and love to the Americas. By the end of the decade, nearly ten million converts had responded to it and entered the church--as many people as had left it on the old continent. Secondly, Our Lady chose a humble instrument to do her bidding, someone not unlike herself. It was Juan Diego's humility that suited him for the task.
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not the fountain of your joy?
Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms?
Our Lady of Guadalupe has always held a special place in Noman's heart, never more so than in adult life. He thanks her for the many favors she has bestowed on him, especially those occurring on December 12th, which are easier to identify as tokens of her affection.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, please bless the America's, especially the United States.