Our Lady of Guadalupe

A 57-year-old widower and recent convert to the Catholic faith, Juan lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he was traveling on foot to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.

Walking by a hill called Tepeyac, he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. Curious, Juan climbed to the top of the hill only to see the ground sparkling and shimmering as the rays of a rainbow in a mist. Then a radiant cloud appeared and within it a beautiful young maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. She called Juan Diego by name and told him:

"Know for certain, my son, my smallest one, that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the owner of heaven and earth.

"I ardently desire that here they build me my sacred little house, a 'teocalli' – where I will reveal Him, where I will exalt Him and make Him manifest – where I will offer Him to all the people with my love, my compassionate gaze, and my help and protection.

"I am truly your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who live united in this land and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who search for me, of those who have confidence in me. There I will listen to their cry, to their sadness, so as to cure all their different pains, their miseries and sorrows, to remedy and alleviate their sufferings.

Speaking to Juan in his own native language, the Virgin Mary sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel exactly in the place where Mary appeared.

After hearing the message, the bishop told Juan Diego to ask the Lady for a sign. At about this same time, Juan's uncle became seriously ill. At daybreak on December 12, Juan ran to get a priest to give the last sacraments to his uncle. To save time, he tried to avoid meeting the Lady. Mary appeared to him nevertheless, and assured Juan that his uncle was cured, and asked him to go again to the bishop.

But obedient to the bishop's previous request, Juan Diego asked for a sign to take to the bishop. Mary told him to go up into the rocks and gather roses. Roses?! Juan knew that December was not the time for roses, but he went as she asked.

Astonished at discovering beautiful roses growing in the cold rocks, he gathered them into his tilma, the long cloak worn by Mexican Indians. He then returned to the Blessed Mother, who arranged the roses herself in his tilma and warned him to keep them unseen until he reached the bishop.

When he arrived at the bishop's home, Juan unfolded his cloak and the roses fell out. Startled to see the bishop and his attendants kneeling before him, he looked down at his tilma and saw there the life-sized figure of the Virgin Mother, just as he had described her.

This miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe remains as bright and beautiful today as it did when it first appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma December 12, 1531. The magnificent Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, which displays the image, is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the Catholic world.

This feast is also celebrated in the United States because of the close link between the United States and Mexico. Juan Diego, whose Indian name was "Singing Eagle", has been beatified and his feast is celebrated on December 9.

Mary's appearance to Juan Diego is a powerful reminder that God welcomes all people into His family. In the suffering and oppression of the Indian people at that time, the Mother of Jesus came to comfort her children: "Am I not here, I, your Mother?"

In these days when we hear so much about God’s preferential option for the poor, Our Lady of Guadalupe cries out to us that God’s love for and identification with the poor is an age-old truth that stems from the Gospel itself.

To express the love native peoples still bear for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe chose her title for its name when it was formed as an independent southwest province in 1985.

The Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12.

Sources for this article:

Saint of the Day: Lives and Lessons for Saints and Feasts of the New Missal by Leonard Foley, O.F.M., Editor, Revised Edition (Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press,1990), pp. 331-332.

Saints of the Roman Calendar by Enzo Lodi (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1992), pp. 389-390.

Mary My Hope by Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., New Revised Edition (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1977), pp. 143-144.