One of the most unique aspects of our Catholic faith is the great diversity of the devotions one may chose to celebrate. These acts of popular piety that honor or remember, for example, the Virgin Mary, saints, apparitions, or miracles, are made available to us by the Church, and we can choose to observe whichever strike us particularly and aide our faith.
One of the most popular devotions, in the Americas at least, is that to the Blessed Virgin Mary, honored as Our Lady of Guadalupe . It is believed the in the year 1531 the Virgin Mary appeared on a hill outside Mexico City and the events that followed lead to several miracles and the conversion of a great number of Aztecs to Christianity. Thus, Catholics in Mexico and of Mexican descent are often particularly devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, but heritage is by no means a limit.
Parishioners of St. John the Baptist parish had a tradition of honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe by celebrating her feast day, December 12. In recent years, as our former parishes clustered and combined their religious education programs, it became a tradition that the celebration would be led by the children and catechists on the Wednesday nearest her feast. The faith formation program at St. John Paul II Parish, decided to continue this tradition. We will be holding our Our Lady of Guadalupe Celebration on Wednesday, December 10 at 6:00 pm at the St. John the Baptist church site and I want to extend an invitation to all in our parish!
If you are unfamiliar with the story of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it's one worth reading; it begins in the early 1500's as conquistadors from Spain, along with Franciscan missionaries, were arriving in the area that is today Mexico. The missionaries were having very little success in preaching to the native Aztecs, whether because the Aztec people did not understand or because they were resentful of the Spanish. They did have a few converts, including a man named Juan Diego. On December 9, 1531 he was walking to morning Mass when a beautiful woman appeared on Tepeyac Hill, outside Mexico City and began speaking to him in his native Aztec language. She asked him to go to the bishiop and tell him she wished a church to be built on that site in her honor. Juan Diego recognized her as the Virgin Mary and went immediately to the bishop. Bishop Zumárraga listened to the man's story, but did not put much faith in it and sent Juan Diego home.
On his way, he again met the woman on Typeac Hill. He asked her to find someone more important for this mission but she replied "You must understand that there are many more noble men to whom I could have entrusted my message and yet, it is because of you that my plan will succeed. Return to the bishop tomorrow... Tell him that it is I myself, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, who am sending you."
Juan Diego again did as she asked and this time the bishop asked him to bring back a sign of the truth of the apparition. Once again she appeared to him on his way home and he told her of the bishops request for proof. She told Juan Diego to return in the morning for it. However, Juan Diego arrived home to find his uncle very ill, and he had to stay home the next day to care for him. The following day, his health worsening, his uncle asked Juan Diego to go get a priest. Juan Diego hurried to do so, and avoided Typeac Hill fearing that he would again meet the apparition of Mary and she delay him.
Of course, the Virgin Mary appered in his path anyway. When he explained his rush to find a priest for his uncle she told him she had already visited him and healed him. She instructed Juan Diego to gather flowers - Castilian roses that were blooming despite the December cold - and bring them to her to arrange in his tilma, a cloak made of cactus fibers. These would be the sign Juan Diego would bring to the bishop and was not to let anyone see them before Bishop Zumárraga.
When Juan Diego was finally allowed to see the bishop he opened his tilma to show the sign he'd been given. The bishop and his assistants looked shocked - then fell to their knees. Juan Diego was confused until the bishop took his tilma from him and showed him the front. On it was an exact image of the woman who had appeared to him.
Just as shocking to them as the miraculous appearance of the image was the fact the Virgin Mary did not appear as a European as normally depicted, but as a pregnant Aztec princes. The image also used symbols the Aztec people would have recognized to show her triumphing over their gods, but yet pointing to one even greater than she.
The miracle even more convincing than the tilma itself is the mass conversion of the Azetc people to Catholicism in the wake of Mary's appearance to Juan Diego. As news of the image spread nine million people converted within the next 10 years - that's a rate of almost 3,000 a day!
To this day the tilma is venerated in the Basilica of Our lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Though it is over 400 years old the tlima, which normally would have lasted about 20 years, has not deteriorated at all. Many scientific studies have been done on the image itself, and it has been found that it was not made by any known human paints or dyes. Many other miracles have been attributed to the image and the intercession of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the years, and the Basilica that houses the image is one of the most visited religious sites in the world.
Today, we honor St. Juan Diego on December 9 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. We name her the patroness of the Americas, and patroness of the unborn.
Please do join us for our Our Lady of Guadalupe Celebration on Wednesday, December 10 at 6:00 pm at the St. John the Baptist church site. The children and catechists will lead us in a celebration, and we will continue to celebrate with Mexican food and a piñata in the church basement!