The year was 1531. The place was Mexico City. Having been conquered by the Spaniards under Hernando Cortéz ten years earlier, Mexico was emerging from centuries of heathen Aztec rule and adjusting ever so slowly to the Christianizing efforts of its new Catholic rulers.
On the chilly Saturday morning of December 9, an Aztec Indian by name, Juan Diego, a recent convert to Catholicism, was on his way from his home on the outskirts of Mexico City to attend Mass and catechism class at a Franciscan church within the city. As he was passing the rocky crags of Tepeyac hill at the city's border he was stunned to hear singing like the songs of many precious birds. Next, he heard his name being called from atop the hill Climbing up, he suddenly found himself face to face with a lovely young lady. She was standing in a transfigured landscape and her garment shone like the sun.
She spoke to him in his native Nahuatl language. She told him She was Mary, Mother of the True God and that she urgently desired that a church be built on the site. She urged him to go to the Bishop of Mexico City with this message.
When Juan Diego recounted this experience to the Bishop who listened carefully but took no action and acted as if he didn't believe him.
Returning to the hill and the Lady, Juan Diego reported on his mission His lack of credibility and suggested She send someone of more influence. Unswayed, the Lady urged he return to the Bishop a second time, which he did the following day. Still unconvinced, the Bishop suggested that Juan Diego bring some sign of the Lady's presence, which he dutifully reported to Her. She told him to return on the morrow for his sign.
On the third day, Juan Diego took a different path, intending to avoid Her due to his embarrassment at failure and needing to attend to his sick uncle besides. Nevertheless, She intercepted him, comforted him, restated Her confidence in him and told him to go to the top of the hill, gather the roses blooming there (out of season!) and bring them to Her. Arranging the roses in his cloak, She sent him on his way to the Bishop's residence. She assured him, besides, that She would attend to his uncle.
Once in the presence of the Bishop, Juan Diego opened his cloak, the roses tumbled to the floor and the image of the Lady miraculously appeared imprinted on his cloak—the same cloak that is now enshrined in the basilica in Mexico City. In a burst of enlightenment, the Bishop and all those who were there knelt down and were full of amazement.
The next day, the Bishop returned to the hill of Tepeyac with Juan Diego and was shown the place where the Lady wished Her sacred little house to be built.
Excusing himself from the Bishop's company, Juan Diego then returned to his uncle's home and was amazed to find him fully recovered from his sickness. The uncle recounted how he had been visited by a wonderful Lady who healed him, told him about his nephew’s mission and instructed him that She wished to be referred to as the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe.
The Bishop, in a very few days, had the little house built on Tepeyac and moved the sacred image there. The entire city was deeply moved by the experience and everyone came to see and admire the precious image, to acknowledge its divine character and to offer Her their prayers. All agreed: absolutely no one on earth had painted Her beloved image.
The original account of the encounter and dialogue between Our Lady and Juan Diego, entitled the “Nican Mopohua”, was written by a contemporary of the events, Don Antonio Valeriano, ca.1548. This account, published in 1649, is regarded by many as a remarkable insight into the divine mentality and a masterpiece ranking with the classics of spiritual literature.
The first great miracle wrought by Our Lady of Guadalupe was the conversion of millions of Aztec Indians to the Christian faith. Mexico became an overwhelming Catholic nation and, to this day, Our Lady of Guadalupe is at the center of Mexican consciousness, guardian of its hopes and dreams, present in a very personal way in the daily lives of its people, refuge of its marginated ones, equalizer of class distinctions and bonding agent for its diverse mix of races and cultures.
Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has steadily spread beyond the borders of Mexico to the rest of the Americas, spurred by Pope Pius XII who, in 1945, declared Her "Empress of the Americas". Pope John Paul II, in 1979, made the first visit of his papacy to Her shrine in Mexico City (the first visit by any Pope to Her shrine!) and, in 1990, returned to the shrine to proclaim Juan Diego “Blessed.” In July 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego, so he is now Saint Juan Diego.
Today, in the United States, over 400 churches, schools and Catholic institutions are dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe and devotion to Her grows yearly. In 1988, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops established December 12th as a national feast day in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe to be celebrated in all churches in the United States each year.
*After being diagnosed with Leukemia, Martin Kelly, who lived in Phoenix, sold his residence and moved into an apartment closer to work. Shortly thereafter, a car hit him. He returned to Denver and reunited with his wife. He planned to work full time on the Guadalupe Institute after his recovery. But injuries were more severe than a broken leg. A sudden turn for the worse startled his doctors. Within hours, he died April 2, 2000.
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