Saint Juan Diego meets Our Lady of Guadalupe
GUADALUPE, 1531: OUR LADY SAVES AMERICA
Fly with us up into the Heavens to envision God’s view, an overall picture of the country of Mexico. The date can be anywhere from December 6 to December 9th of any year, based on the distance between the little village in question, and the famous Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City, where the Mother of God, Mary Most Holy, radically changed the course of history just 39 years after Christopher Columbus set foot on the new world.
From our vantage point in the sky, we see little arteries and veins, made up of people. Groups of pilgrims awaken early in the morning. They gather together in the village square, laden down with sleeping bags, food and provisions for a week or more, and a great banner depicting Juan Diego’s tilma, and the magnificent image of Our Lady. They begin their walking pilgrimage, for as few as 50 miles, and as many as 200 miles, praying, singing, dancing, in praise of Our Dear Lady, and the gift of power she has been given by her Son Jesus. deep in the heartland of the country, with the skyscrapers and fashionably dressed inhabitants of the big city. But strangely enough, they’re not out of place at all. They parade gaily down the main avenue of Mexico City, waving to the people in the cars and trucks, who wave back at them. Traffic is snarled for miles; however no one appears to be concerned. All roads lead to the outskirts of the city, to Tepeyac Hill. And all pilgrims follow those roads to the great Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
As they arrive at Mexico City, they present an overwhelming contrast, these poor farmers and shepherds from unknown villages
It is said that in the normal course of events, 15,000 pilgrims a day visit the shrine to Mary at Guadalupe. This however, is not the normal time. This is the octave of the Feast. The numbers are more into the millions. Most of the pilgrims make their headquarters in and around the Basilica. The high point for all is a long visit to the miraculous tilma (poncho) of Juan Diego, which hangs high above the main altar, on which is imprinted the Heavenly image of Mary. Pilgrims spend hours at this shrine. They bring roses, carloads of roses, because roses were the medium used by Jesus and the heavenly angels to paint the portrait of His Mother Mary on the tilma.
During any hour of the night on any day from the 10th to the 15th of December, a passerby can see hundreds of thousands of pilgrims sleeping in the great plaza, surrounded by the old, sinking Basilica on one side, and the new, modern Basilica at a right angle to it. The pilgrims don’t go to sleep very early. They dance and sing through the night. But at some point in the wee hours, they realize that the next day will be another celebration. They finally allow themselves to fall into the sleep of the innocent, in the knowledge and security that they are being protected by the greatest powers in the world.
In order to get the proper perspective on this shrine, we brought a Pilgrimage of Peace to Guadalupe in December of 1986, to see and experience first hand the shrine and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which falls on the 12th of December. One of our priests put it best at his homily during Mass at the Shrine.
“IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT FOR YOURSELF; IF YOU HAVEN’T HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING HERE ON THE FEAST DAY, YOU CAN NEVER IMAGINE IN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS THE TRIBUTE PAID TO OUR LADY HERE IN MEXICO.”
Over the past 11 years, we have been present at, or brought pilgrimages to every major shrine in the world. We have walked the Way of the Cross at the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem on Good Friday, and fought the crowds at the Tomb of Jesus. We have been to the Shrine of St. Anthony in Padua on the 13th of June, where pilgrims from all over Europe come to venerate the saint. We have been to Fatima on the 13th of October, in memoriam of the Great Miracle of the Sun, when over a million pilgrims take part in the ceremonies. We have been to Lourdes at the height of the Pilgrim season, where up to 250,000 pilgrims march in the Candlelight Procession. We have been at audiences with the Pope in Rome at Eastertime, when close to 100,000 pilgrims jammed St. Peter’s Square. We attended a Mass at St. John Lateran’s in Rome in 1979, celebrated by Pope John Paul II, with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament following, where the secular newspapers complained of traffic jams caused by crowds of over 200,000 walking with Our Lord Jesus and Pope John Paul II.
WE HAVE NEVER......NOT EVER....SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THE VENERATION AND PRAISE GIVEN TO OUR LORD JESUS THROUGH HIS MOTHER MARY AT GUADALUPE.
The closest estimate we could get was that on the day of the Feast, December 12, approximately 3 to 4 Million Pilgrims attended the services. The official festivities actually begin on midnight of the evening of the 11th, when a special service takes place. It is called a MANANITAS. The word, a Mexican coloquial expression, means a short musical composition to celebrate a famous person or event. In this instance, however, it is anything but short. The most famous singers from every Hispanic country in the world, but mostly from Mexico, Central and South America, pay tribute to Mary by singing sweet praises to Jesus and the Lady who honored and saved them at Tepeyac Hill.
From the break of dawn on the 12th, there are Masses and special services inside the Basilica. Outside the Basilica, in the great plaza, on the streets, all over the city of Mexico, festivities begin, spreading into the suburbs of the city, creating arteries of celebration in every hamlet and village in the country. And it goes on for days. Actually, the festivities begin with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, which carries them through to The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. It continues on through the 16th, when the Christmas Posadas begin. (Posada is a recreation of Joseph and Mary being turned away from the inns) So for all intents and purposes, the festivities begin on December 8, and don’t end until New Year’s Day.
Back to the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe; the main Mass and the Blessing of the Roses takes place at 11 am. It is celebrated by the Bishop of Mexico City, with the Cardinal and Papal Nuncio in attendance. We were fortunate enough to have a reserved space in the balcony for our group. While we waited for the Mass to begin, (we arrived at 9:15 am) we were able to look down from the balcony into the great plaza. There were great multitudes of groups of pilgrims, dancing in native costumes. There were Indian dancers of many tribes, as indicated by the color and type of costumes they wore. There were Spanish dancers, wearing costumes from various periods from Mexican history.
They reminded us of the Little Drummer Boy story. He had nothing to bring to Jesus for Christmas except his ability to play the drums. So he gave Jesus all that he had. These dear people, so extremely poor that we in the United States, can not possibly conceive the level of their poverty, danced their hearts out in honor of the Lady from Heaven. They had nothing else to give, but Jesus and Mary were so pleased with the gifts they did give.
Their values were so outrageous by our standards. They cared not about leaving their homes unattended, because there was nothing in the homes worth stealing. They weren’t concerned about their jobs. Most of them did not have jobs. But those who had them knew that if they were gone when they returned, the Lord would provide somehow.
It’s said that with the exception of Christmas and Easter, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most celebrated Feast Day in existence, and that the shrine of Guadalupe is second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as the most visited shrine in the World. Somewhere in the area of 15,000,000 pilgrims visit Guadalupe each year. Pope John Paul II said that 95% of the Mexican people are Catholic, but 98% are Guadalupeans. WHY? WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
In the early morning hours of December 9, 1531, the frost was still on the ground. All living things, such as flowers and grass, and leaves on the trees, had died for the winter, waiting for the warmth of Spring to breathe life back into them. Juan Diego was a simple Indian. He had been converted just recently to the Catholic Faith. He and his wife were baptized in the Church of Santiago, built out of the rubble of the destruction of the Aztec temple of Huitzilpochtli. Juan had risen from bed before dawn on this Saturday morning to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. After Mass, he was to take lessons at the Indian school, run by the Franciscans, for those newly converted to the faith.
As he passed Tepeyac hill, a blanket of warmth and peace overtook him. He could hear the sound of sweet angelic voices singing above him, coming from the top of the hill. He had never heard anything like it before. He listened intently. They stopped. Then their voices echoed from a great distance. They began again. He was overcome by the angelic melody. After a short while there was silence again. Then one single voice rang out to him like a bell.
“Little Juan, Juan Dieguito”.
This should have been unusual to Juan, because the voice was so young and sweet that it had to come from someone much younger than his 57 years, and yet she spoke to him as if he were her child. That didn’t concern him, however. He darted up the hill as quickly as his legs could carry him. The sight he beheld filled his heart with such joy, he thought it would burst. But the dazzling beauty of what he saw before him made him freeze on the spot. He couldn’t catch his breath.
There before him was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. She was young; she was regal. She did not look of this world. He had never imagined anything that even closely resembled the vision before his eyes. He had no idea of who she might be, but he didn’t care. He wanted to be swallowed up by the elegance of the lady. Everything around her sparkled like the finest diamonds. Gold reflected from her garments. She wore the most exquisite gown he had ever seen. Even the rocks and bushes glistened from the reflection of her. She spoke to him.
“Juanito, the smallest of my children, where are you going?”
“My Lady and my child, I must go to your church in Mexico Tlatiloco, to continue the study of the divine mysteries taught us by our priests, who are missionaries of Our Lord.”
The eyes, those piercing eyes, looked deep into his soul.
“Be it known and understood by you, the smallest of my children, that I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God from whom all life has come; of the Creator, close to whom is everything, the Lord of Heaven and Earth.
I ardently desire a temple built for me here, where I can show and offer all my love, compassion, help and protection, for I am your Merciful Mother, wishing to hear and help you, and all those others who, loving me, invoke and place their confidence in me; therein to hear your complaints and remedy all your sorrows, hardships, and suffering.
And in order to carry out what my mercy seeks, you must go to the bishop’s palace in Mexico and tell him that I sent you to make it clear how very much I desire that he build a temple for me here on this place. You shall tell him exactly all you have seen and marvelled at, and what you have heard.
Be assured that I shall be very grateful and reward you, for I shall make you happy and you shall greatly merit my compensation for the work and trouble that the mission I entrust you with will cause you. Now you have heard my command, my son, the smallest of all. Go now and give it your best effort.”
Juan Diego did not know how to behave in front of this heavenly creature. He bowed as low as he could, and said,
“My Lady, I am going now to carry out your command. For the present, your humble servant takes leave of you.”
He attempted to back down the hill, so as not to turn his back on the radiant lady. But he found himself slipping, and so he bowed again, turned his back and left. He kept turning around as he went down the hill. She was so beautiful, he didn’t want to take his eyes off her. He couldn’t get enough of her. She remained there until he was too low to see her anymore. He immediately set out for the Bishop’s palace in Mexico City to tell him what Our Lady had commanded.
We find it unusual to think that anyone can just run off into town and visit the bishop. In our time, it’s highly unlikely that if we just popped into the bishop’s office, we could be received. However, at that time, Friar don Juan de Zumarraga, who had just been appointed bishop, was a Franciscan friar. It’s possible that he even knew Juan Diego, because Juan had converted some 5 years before this time. There weren’t that many Catholics among the Indians. The religious had a tendency to recognize their own.
Whether it was that, or the aura that shone on the face of Juan Diego when he announced himself at the bishop’s palace, he was given an audience with Bishop Zumarraga. Juan bowed low and knelt before this emissary of the Lord Jesus. He was very nervous. He did not have the gift of dialog, or so he thought. He had to speak slowly to be understood, because he spoke in Indian, and a dialect at that. The Bishop was Spanish, but he had an interpreter. Still, communication was not that easy.
Juan watched the bishop’s eyes as he related the story of his visit from the Lady from Heaven. They were expressionless. He looked from the interpreter to the Bishop. Perhaps the interpreter was telling him the wrong thing. Why was the bishop not jumping up and down with joy? Juan could feel perspiration breaking out all over his body. It wasn’t working. The Bishop didn’t believe him. At the end of the story, the bishop said to him,
“You shall come again, my son, and I will hear what you have to say at greater leisure. I will look into the matter carefully from the very first, and give much thought and consideration to the good will and desire with which you have come.” The newly appointed bishop had no idea what a prediction he was making in the words he spoke to Juan Diego. Juan would definitely come again, and they would talk again, but the dear bishop was not expecting it to be as soon as it turned out to be. He was dealing with a matter of great importance, but he didn’t know it; Juan Diego didn’t know it. Only one person knew it; the Lady who shakes and moves. And she had a grave reason for moving and shaking.
Juan was completely crushed as he left his audience with the bishop. He dreaded the look of sadness he anticipated he would see on the face of the beautiful lady when he made his report to her. He went back to Tepeyac Hill, where she was waiting for him, and gave her an account of his unsuccessful interview with the bishop.
“Dear Lady and Child, I understood perfectly by the way he responded that he did not believe me. He may have thought I made up the story about your coming to me, and asking to have a temple built here, and that you didn’t really ask for it. I seriously implore you, my Lady and Daughter, to give so great a message to an important person, someone well respected, in high esteem, that they will believe.
I am but a little man, a thin rope, a stepstool, a ladder, one of the least important of all people. You, my Child, smallest of my daughters, my Lady, send me where I am completely out of place, and have no standing. Forgive me if I cause you grief and make you angry with me, my Lady and Mistress.”
The Lady remained calm, but her voice was very definite. She looked at Juan Diego’s eyes, deep down into his soul.
“You listen to me, smallest of all my beloved children, and understand what I am about to say. I have many messengers and servants. I could send any one of them to do my bidding, and they would be accepted without question.
But it is extremely necessary that you solicit my cause and help me. It’s of the utmost importance that it be through your intercession that my wish be carried out. My little son, I urge and firmly order you to go again to the bishop tomorrow. Tell him again in my name, and be surethat he understands my position, that he begin work on the temple I ask for. Be sure to impress upon him that it is I, the Ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, who send you.”
Juan was a simple man, but he could see a look of determination on that beautiful face, and hear the persistence in her voice. The die was cast. There was no way out for him.
“My Lady and my Child, please believe me, I don’t want to cause you worry or concern. I will go gladly as you command. I will do as you command. I won’t complain about the journey. But you must know that it’s very possible that I won’t be heard, and if I am heard, won’t be believed. I just think that if the mission is as important as you say, you should get someone who is more capable than I of getting the desired results.”
He looked at her to see if his last statement made any impression on her. She just stared at him. He quickly continued,
“But I will go to Mass before meeting with the bishop. I will pray all the way into the city. Then, towards sunset tomorrow evening, I will come back to you again, and give you a report of the bishop’s response.”
On the following morning, Sunday, December 10, Juan rose before dawn again. He headed for Tlatiloco (Mexico City) for Mass and instruction. From the time he had left the Lady the day before, his mind was completely taken with her. He couldn’t get her out of his consciousness. She was so pretty; he couldn’t believe how exquisite she was. She had to be Our Lady. No one that ravishing, with such a sweet voice, could come from anywhere but Heaven. He also thought of her determination. Without losing a bit of her delicacy, she was very firm in her demands. She inspired him, not out of fear if he failed, but out of such great love for her that he would suffer anything, even death, to please her. Little did he know that her focus was life, and not death. Her mission was to save lives.
Juan prayed all the way into the city. He prayed to the Lord Jesus, to the Virgin Mary, the little lady at Tepeyac Hill, to his deceased wife, Maria Lucia, to all the angels and the saints. This assignment was so important. He didn’t know why. But the Lady said it was important, and he didn’t want to disappoint her, so it was important.
He could not get his mission out of his mind during the Mass at ten o’ clock. He fought the distraction throughout the Mass. As per the Lady’s instructions, he set out immediately for the bishop’s palace as the Mass let out. His heart pounded. His hands shook. He repeated in his mind, over and over again, the message he was to bring the bishop. He tried to think of ways to convince the bishop that he was not lying, and was not crazy.
This time, entrance into the bishop’s palace was much more difficult than it had been the day before. The servants had been warned that he was a radical, or a lunatic; and in either event, should not be allowed in. Juan Diego, more concerned about disappointing the Lady than being disliked by the servants, demanded to see the bishop. After much arguing and difficulties, he finally got in.
As he knelt down before the bishop, whose expression was not as kind today as it had been yesterday, Juan Diego wished for the whole thing to be over. He knew the only way, however, was to convince the bishop. He repeated his story, tears streaming down his cheek.
A change came over the bishop, as Juan spoke to him. His attitude of annoyance changed to one of genuine concern. The Holy Spirit instructed him. While Juan Diego had been receiving instructions, he had never been taught very much about the Mother of God except to adore her in keeping with her station as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Remember, nothing like this had ever happened. Apparitions from Mary were very few in Church History prior to this time. The Indian converts had never heard of any of them. Where would this man, this simple, uneducated Indian, get these notions? They had to come from somewhere. If Our Lady were truly trying to speak to him through Juan Diego, there must be a good reason. The bishop decided to take it seriously.
He asked Juan Diego many questions. Where had he seen her? 16
What did she look like? What exactly did she say? Juan repeated everything as it had happened. The bishop seemed particularly interested in Juan Diego’s plea for Our Lady to get someone of importance to bring the message to the bishop, and her firm reply that it had to come from Juan.
At the end of the interview, the bishop told Juan that he could not accept his story on his word alone, and could not possibly act on it unless there were some sort of sign from Heaven. Juan didn’t think this an unreasonable request. After all, if she really wanted the temple built as she had said, she should be willing to cooperate with the bishop. He asked the bishop,
“Senor, just what kind of a sign do you ask for. I will go and request it from the Lady of Heaven who sent me.”
We’re not sure if the bishop requested a particular sign, but it was agreed that Juan Diego would ask the Lady for a sign, which he would bring back with him. When Juan left the bishop’s palace, the bishop had some of his trusted servants follow him, to see what he did. According to their report, when they got to the bridge at Tepeyacac, Juan disappeared. This angered the servants, whom we believe to be Indians, like Juan Diego. They went back to the bishop with a story that Juan had deceived them, or had made up the tale about seeing the Lady. They even recommended that if he returned, he should be punished severely, so that he wouldn’t make up stories and tell lies again. The bishop took this as a sign that he should not believe Juan Diego, and dismissed the incident from his mind. Or at least he tried to.
Juan returned to Tepeyac Hill, where Our Lady waited for him. He explained in great detail the entire interview with the bishop. He emphasized the need for some sign from Heaven that it was truly she who was speaking through Juan. The Lady agreed, and told Juan to return the following morning, Monday, December 11, and she would give him a sign to bring back to the bishop, which he would have to accept. She told Juan to go home and rest, that she would see him the following morning. Juan was elated as he left Tepeyac Hill, both because he had pleased the beautiful lady, and alsobecause this affair would soon be finished. The next part of the story is so unbelievable, it has to be true. Juan Diego FORGOT to keep his appointment with Our Lady. We have to attribute this to his simple nature. What might have contributed to his distraction was that when he arrived home that Sunday night, he found his uncle, Juan Bernardino, sick to the point of death. Juan Diego went immediately in search of a doctor, who was able to give the uncle some relief from his excruciating pain, but diagnosed him as terminal. He would die in a short time. Juan spent the next day caring for his uncle. You would think that somewhere in the back of his mind there would be a gnawing about some really important thing he forgot to do. But there’s no indication that he thought about Our Lady or his meeting, or the bishop at all.
During the night of Monday, December 11, the uncle’s condition grew worse. He asked Juan to go and get him a priest. He wanted to confess his sins, and receive the Last Sacraments of the Church. Early on Tuesday, December 12, Juan got up and headed for Tlatilolco to bring a priest back to his uncle. The first inkling we have that Juan remembered the meeting with Mary came when he approached Tepeyac Hill. He had to pass there to get to the city. He realized that if he went the same way he had the previous two days, she would be waiting for him. We’re not sure if Juan was afraid of being chastized for not having kept his appointment to bring the sign to the bishop, or as he told the Lady, he didn’t have time to take care of her request this day, because of his uncle.
Juan decided to avoid confrontation. He went around the other side of Tepeyac Hill, in order to avoid meeting the Lady. But as he passed near the place where they had met, he saw her walking down towards him. She asked him,
“What is the matter, my little son? Where are you going?” Juan’s reaction reminds us of the little boy who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He acted as if nothing had happened.
He bowed down before her, and spoke. “My Child,” he began, “my littlest Daughter, Lady. I hope you are well and happy. Did you sleep well? Are you in good humor and health this morning, my Lady and little Daughter?” Juan went on to tell her about his uncle, how he was sick to the point of death, that Juan had to get a doctor for him and nurse him the whole day, and now he was on his way to her house (the Church) in Tlaltiolco to get a priest for him. He continued,
“But even so, I’ll return here right away, tomorrow, to take your message to the bishop. I promise not to deceive you. First thing tomorrow, I’ll be here.”
The Lady stopped Juan Diego with her sparkling smile, before he could say another word. She spoke to him gently but firmly.
“Listen to me and understand me well, my son, smallest of all. You have nothing to be worried about. Have no anxiety about your uncle. He will not die now. Is this not your Mother here next to you? Are you not here in the shelter of my loving shadow? Are you not safe here within my loving bosom? What else is there to worry about?
At this very moment, your uncle is being cured. He will be well.” Juan Diego breathed a sigh of relief. He believed what the Lady was telling him. With this burden lifted from his heart, he was able to concentrate fully on what Our Lady wanted from him. He begged her to send him to the bishop with the message immediately.
She asked him to climb up the hill to the place where they had met previously.
“There you will see many flowers; gather them carefully and place them together in your tilma; then bring them down and show them to me.”
Juan Diego mumbled under his breath as he climbed the hill. Simple he might be, but not stupid. Flowers never grew up in that place, much less at this time of the year. There was frost covering the ground. How could anything grow up there now? But he was wise enough not to question the beautiful Lady, so he followed her instructions. His eyes grew wide as he reached the appointed place. In an area where previously there had only been thistles, thorny plants, cactus and mesquite, he saw the most beautiful Castillian roses of assorted varieties and colors. They were out of season for the most fertile ground, much less for this barren soil.
He gathered them carefully, and placed them in his tilma (poncho), being sure not to crush any of them. Then he retraced his steps to the other side of the hill, where She was waiting for him. The world’s greatest decorator took the flowers from him, and rearranged them in his tilma. How must Juan Diego have felt having this exquisite child/woman standing so close to him, actually touching him? There was a fragrance about her, so much richer than that of the beautiful roses. It filled his nostrils. He became heady from it. After she had arranged the flowers to her satisfaction, she instructed him to close his tilma, so that they could not be seen.
“My little son, these various roses are the sign and proof that you must take to the bishop. Tell him in my name that they will make him understand my wish, and he must carry it out. You are my ambassador. You are most worthy of my confidence. Now, most important, do not unfold your outer garment or reveal the contents to ANYONE until you are in the bishop’s presence. Tell him everything I’ve said to you. You can do it, Juan. I will be with you.”
Juan held the flowers close to his chest, being careful not to bruise them, as he walked towards the city and the bishop’s palace. He repeated the Lady’s message over and over as he neared his destination. He wanted to be sure he didn’t forget one word she had said, even her slightest inflection. He was confident now. He had the sign. The bishop had to realize that nowhere in the country could he find roses like these at this time of the year. There was no place they could have come from, other than Heaven. He would believe that Our Lady was speaking to him, and everything would be fine.
What he didn’t take into consideration was that there would be two forces working at the bishop’s palace that day. Our Lady would be there, but the evil one would also be in attendance. Satan had been in control of Mexico for the last ten years. He had good reason for not wanting this sign to come to the attention of the bishop. He knew what would happen. So he put all his forces to work around the residence of the bishop. When Juan arrived at the palace, the guard refused to let him pass. The servants who had lost him the other day, came out and began berating him. He just stood there, his head drooping, not knowing what to do. A long time passed.
The servants realized that Juan was carrying something inside his tilma. Their curiosity got the best of them. They asked what he had there. He did not answer them. They crowded around him, demanding to see what he had inside the cloak. He knew what his instructions were, but he also knew that this crowd would not be satisfied until they saw something. So he opened his tilma slightly to show the roses inside. They marvelled at what they saw. They knew how impossible it was to have Castillian roses at this time of the year. They wanted them. They began to grab at the roses. But as they grabbed a rose, it disappeared, and turned into a painting on the tilma. This shocked the servants.
They ran to the bishop to tell him what was happening, that Juan Diego was here with the sign from the Lady. The bishop, believing that this was important, allowed Juan into his office. The Indian knelt as before, and repeated the entire story over again. He told him about the Castillian roses on the hill, and how Our Lady had arranged them, admonishing Juan that no one should see them before the bishop. Juan ended his report with the words “RECEIVE THEM”. With that, he opened his tilma, whereupon all the roses cascaded to the floor.
Juan looked for an expression of surprise and joy from the bishop as the roses came into his sight. Juan’s eyes followed the roses to the floor, and then looked up at the bishop. He was surprised to see that the bishop was not looking at the precious roses at all. Neither was the interpreter, who was standing next to the bishop. They were both staring intently at Juan Diego’s chest.
He watched incredulously as their expressions changed from surprise to fearsome awe, to exalted reverence. Both men fell to their knees; tears of joy streamed down their cheeks. Juan looked at the tilma, to see what the reason was for their bliss. Before their eyes, the three men saw the image we call Our Lady of Guadalupe take form. It was not there as the roses first fell out of the tilma. It was only beginning. In a short period of time, the entire image was complete, the only true picture we have of the Blessed Virgin, designed by the Master Designer, and painted with joy by the Angels. In this glorious moment in time, the destiny of Mexico was altered. Our Lady had come to the Americas, to change the course of history.
Throughout the account of the Apparition, we hear Our Lady speak of the importance of having the bishop build the temple. She insisted that Juan Diego had to be the one to bring the message to the Church of Mexico. Why, we ask ourselves? It was so difficult. Had she used a more prominent person, as Juan had suggested, wouldn’t it have been easier? Wouldn’t she eliminate the risk of not being accepted?
WHY MEXICO? - WHY 1531? - WHY JUAN DIEGO?
When we began research on the Miraculous Apparition at Mexico City in 1531, we thought that the reason Our Lady chose the New World was because she had been rejected and treated so badly at the hands of the European powers during the Sixteenth Century. The rumblings of the Protestant Reformation were spreading throughout Europe. Heresies were surfacing daily. The great hate campaign being waged by heretics and agnostics was first against Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, and secondly, His Mother Mary, who had treated them with nothing but love. It seemed very reasonable that she shake the dust from her heels, and turn her attention to the New World. All this may be true, but there was more, much more.
The Spanish Conquistadores and their great leader, Cortez, have been romanticized in books and films for centuries. Their exploits have been fantasized as glamorous escapades of daring adventurers, depicted by Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power. Sadly, the truth of it is that this was one of the darkest periods of humanity, on a par with the atrocities of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, filled with wholesale massacre, and the final destruction of a great civilization, the Aztecs. The worst part of it is that it was all done in the name of Jesus.
One particular example of the Spanish mistreatment of the Indians almost lost Cortez his great victory in Mexico. Pedro de Alvarado was one of Cortez’ most trusted and valiant captains. While Cortez was in another part of the kingdom, he left Alvarado in charge of their headquarters in Tenochtitlan. The Indians had been given permission to hold a religious ceremony. A promise was given that there would be no human sacrifice, a ritual among the Aztecs which was considered by the Spanish as inhuman. The Aztecs came unarmed.
Several hundred young Indian nobles gathered for the ceremony. They were dressed in religious loin cloths, and wore jewels appropriate for their station. The entire proceeding was overseen by armed Spanish guards, who watched from the entrances of the temple.
For absolutely no reason that we could ever determine, towards the end of the dance, the Spanish guards pulled out their swords, and proceeded in unison to attack the young Indians. They killed every one of them brutally, mutilating their bodies completely. Then they waded through the pools of blood and ripped the jewelry off the mangled corpses. It was possibly the most barbaric act they could have performed.
When Cortez returned, he sensed the hostility in the air. His captain, Alvarado, tried to come up with a lame excuse as to why his soldiers committed this lunatic act. The attitude of the Indians towards the Spaniards changed drastically. The troops of Cortez were almost destroyed in that city because of this incident.
On the other side of the coin, during the battle that immediately followed between the Spanish troops and the Aztecs, 72 Spaniards were taken captive, and rushed to the temple for Aztec sacrifice. They were made to dance naked around a statue of a god, with plumes on their heads, and fans in their hands. Then their bodies were bent over a pointed rock. Their chests were cut open, and the hearts ripped out of the living bodies. The pulsating hearts were offered to the gods, while the bodies were thrown down the steps of the temple to be ripped apart and eaten by the Indians. Spanish troops could see this atrocity being performed from a distance. In terms of warfare, we would say that this is a cruel way to torture and kill your enemies. But in the eyes of the Aztecs, they were not executing prisoners of war as much as performing a religious ceremony. This was the same form of human sacrifice to which they subjected as many as 20,000 of their own people each year.
There are no good guys in the world when it comes to colonization and conquest. The history of the world is streaked with the red blood of innocent victims of imperial powers. No one is free from guilt. We will not make any judgments about Spain or the Aztec empire. Let it suffice to say that in the period between the Conquest of Mexico by Cortez in 1521, and Our Lady’s appearance to Juan Diego in 1531, there was a mammoth struggle between opposing cultures and philosophies. The rulers who took over after Cortez’ decisive victory, became despots. They didn’t understand the brilliant culture of the people whose lives they controlled, so they treated them as slaves and worse, animals.
The Spaniards sent over a group of Franciscans to convert the Indians to Christianity. There was a common ground between our faith belief and the teachings of an Aztec god, Quetzelcoatl. Their tradition says he was a great prophet who appeared at Chouala in 700 A.D., and taught the people a civilized religion along the lines of Catholicism. The Indians who converted to Christianity were able to live in peace and harmony with their rulers, but there were too few, and time was running out.
The situation had come to a head just about the time when Our Lady chose to appear to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill. The Indians were at the point of organizing a revolution, to massacre every European in their land. History tells us that it was almost the eve of the revolution when Our Lady came. It’s been determined that at the time of Our Lady’s appearance, the Aztecs were capable of killing every European in Mexico. There was a great need for God to bring these two peoples together. He chose His Mother as the perfect instrument, as He had done fifteen hundred years before, at the Annunciation in Nazareth.
It was important for Our Lady to come to the Indians. They had to embrace Christianity, and the Spaniards had to accept the Indians as human beings, rather than strange, mystical animals. The apparition at Tepeyac Hill was the catalyst that brought them together. In the course of 7 years, 8,000,000 Indians converted to the Catholic Faith. Nothing like that has ever happened in the history of our Church. What had been wholesale massacre became wholesale conversion. The Holy Spirit filled the land on a much greater scale than in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Reconciliation between the Spaniards and the Indians came about. Peace came to Mexico.
THE MIRACULOUS TILMA OF JUAN DIEGO
As for the miraculous tilma of Juan Diego, critics and enemies of Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary have spent the last 450 years trying to disprove that this was a work of Heaven. The cloth on which Our Lady chose to have her image imprinted is Cactus cloth, which has a life span of no more than 20 years if it is not painted on. If it is painted on, it lasts about 6 years. This cactus cloth, which was used by Juan Diego for many years prior to Our Lady’s visit from Heaven, has never decomposed, more than 450 years later
At one time, authorities in the art field tried to simulate the circumstances of how the tilma might have been painted by human hands. Investigations began as early as the middle of the sixteenth century, using whatever tools were available to the artistic and scientific communities of the day. It has continued till today, with the latest scientific and computerized equipment avaialable.
Jody Brant Smith (a Non-Catholic) wrote a book a few years ago, called THE IMAGE OF GUADALUPE - MYTH OR MIRACLE, in which he and a colleague, Dr. Callahan, (a Catholic) performed extensive experiments on the Image of Our Lady, such as infrared photography, ultra violet photography, and computer-enhanced black and white photography. They were trying to determine if a sketch had been made underneath the painting, which would have proven that the painting was done by human hands. They were also trying to determine what kind of colors and pigments were used in the painting.
Prior to issuing the findings, the author (Remember, a Non-Catholic) made the following statement:
Some may find it ironic that in our skeptical age the tools of science have been used not to disprove but in some degree to authenticate miracles of the past. Our discovery of the absence of under sketching in the image of Guadalupe and our inability to account for the remarkable state of preservation of the unsized cactus cloth as well as the unfading brightness of the paints or dyes used in the original parts of the painting put Dr. Callahan and myself firmly in the ranks of those who believe the Image was created supernaturally.
With all the information they were able to gather from the use of the sophisticated equipment at their disposal, they were not able to determine with certainty what pigments or dyes were used to make the portrait. They were easily able to rule out thousands of possibilities, but were not able to make definite conclusions as to what was used.
Two other areas they were not able to explain with any certainty was why the paints had not hardened and cracked in the period of 450 years, and why there has been no fading. We must remember here that until the middle of the 18th Century, there was nothing to protect the tilma from the people touching it, or from the lights and smoke from incense and candles.
There are more aspects of the Image of Our Lady that cannot be explained than can be explained. For instance, there is the brilliance of the colors. Up close, the colors are not as bright as they are at a distance. The clarity, the sharpness of the design is greater the farther away one goes from the painting. The colors of Our Lady’s face change as one goes farther back.
In tests done on the tilma, it was determined that it had never been treated. In order to paint on canvas, it has to be treated before the paints are put on. Also, when paint is applied to canvas, it clogs up the holes, making it impossible to see through the canvas. Juan Diego’s tilma can be seen through. The colors can be seen from the front, but not from the back. On a normal canvas, the pigments of the paints seep through to the back, but not so on the tilma. On the back is what looks like a large green leaf, covering the image of Our Lady. It can’t be seen from the front. By the same token, none of the colors can be seen from the back. The Image takes on a different size. When we attended Mass at the Great Basilica on the Feast Day in 1986, a man came out on the altar holding a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The man was average height, about 5 foot 9 inches. To the left and above him was the painting of Our Lady, relatively close to the man. The image on his banner was probably 4 foot in height. The Image of Our Lady up on the Altar is only 6 1/2 foot high, and yet it looked at least three times larger than the image on the banner.
THE PORTRAIT WITHIN THE EYE
It does appear that with each technological or scientific advance made by man, the miracles of the past are verified. The Twentieth Century brought with it new advances in the field of Photography. Photos by the billions have been taken of the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In 1929, one Alfonso Marcue Gonzalez was examining close up photographic negatives of the Portrait. It’s much easier to see the image in a negative than in a positive. He clearly saw the figure of a man in the eyes of the Madonna. In 1951, Carlos Salinas, using more sophisticated techniques, affirmed the theory, and was able to identify the man as JUAN DIEGO. In the 30 years from the 1950’s to the present, gigantic strides have been made in the field of photography, as we’ve noted above. It has now been determined that there is not only the image of Juan Diego in the eye of the Lady, but three other people, who have been identified as the Bishop, Juan Zumarraga, the interpreter, and another unidentified person, whom they believe to be a woman.
Assuming on the wildest of possibilities, that a human hand had been able to paint the portrait of Mary on the rough cactus cloth without an undersketch, AND assuming that he was able to fit into the eye the image of the four people, all of this without any brushstrokes, by the way, the brilliant Lady from Heaven throws another curve at her doubters. The images in the eye are distorted, according to the curve of her eye.
There has to be some place in time when the doubters and critics of the authenticity of the Portrait of Mary have to finally give up. There are just too many unexplainable phenomena here. For 29
450 years, people have been trying to disprove this Miracle from Heaven. The more they try to discredit it, the greater the evidence materializes in favor of its authenticity.
We went to Guadalupe, not to verify the legitimacy of the Image, but to live the experience, as pilgrims, to bring you the true pulse of the work Mary has done and continues to do in Mexico. We never really expected to come back blabbering idiots, but that’s what she did to us. We cannot pass anyone we know, or speak on the phone, without raving about our GUADALUPE ENCOUNTER. We insist to everyone we come in contact with, that next year they will join us as we pay homage to my Magnificent Friend, Mary, in one of the most outstanding ongoing miracles we have ever beheld.
Would you believe we almost did not go on this Pilgrimage to our Lady of Guadalupe? We had read many books on the apparition. We had more photographs than we could possibly use. Why did we have to go? But as December 9 approached, we found ourselves like Lucia at Fatima, and Mirjana at Medjugorje. We were drawn to the shrine by a power we didn’t understand, and were helpless to control. She wanted us there, and she would have her way. So, we packed our bags, and did as we were told. What fools we were to think that she wouldn’t use the same persuasive powers on us that she has used throughout the centuries, from Juan Diego in Mexico, to Bernadette Soubirous, in Lourdes, to Marija Pavlovic of Medjugorje. We went, we saw, we felt, and we are hopelessly in love with Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Americas. Why not?
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