Today the Catholic Church celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe – the appearance of Mary to Juan Diego in 1531. For those unfamiliar with the story:
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, was on his way to Mass. When he reached Tepeyac hill, a former sanctuary to the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, he heard beautiful music and saw a glowing cloud. He then heard woman’s voice calling him by name, “Juanito, Juan Dieguito.” He followed the voice to the top of the hill, where he saw a beautiful woman. She called him closer and said to him in his native language, “I am your Compassionate Mother, yours, for you yourself, for everybody here in the land, for each and all together, for all others too, for all folk of every kind…here I shall listen to their groanings, to their saddenings; here shall I make well and heal up their each and every kind of disappointment, of exhausting pangs, of bitter pain.”
The woman instructed Juan Diego to convey to the bishop of Mexico that she wanted him to build a church on the hill. Perhaps not surprisingly, the bishop was skeptical of the story. After Juan returned a second time telling the bishop that the woman was Mary, the Mother of God, the bishop asked him to bring some proof of the her identity.
When Juan Diego told the Lady of the Bishop’s request for proof, she instructed him to climb to the top of the hill where they first met. When he arrived he found a beautiful rose garden. He brought a bouquet of roses to the Lady. She arranged them in his cloak and told him to them to the bishop. Juan Diego did as the Lady instructed, and when he opened his cloak to give the flowers to the bishop, the bishop saw a glowing image of Mary imprinted as though painted on his cloak. Soon after, a church was built at the top of the hill where Mary appeared to Juan Diego. Thus, was born devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Many people react to the idea of Marian apparitions with some embarrassment or suspicion and skepticism. But the truth is the God continually reaches out to each of us, sometimes dramatically and sometimes in simple ways. Our God is a self-communicating God who continually speaks to us. Is it really so strange that one of the vehicles God might use to communicate with us is Mary, whom he chose to be the mother of Christ? Perhaps, rather than suspicion and skepticism, our stance should be one of openness to the possibility of God speaking to us through Mary.
Here is what Pope Francis said in his Message to the Americas in connection with this feast.
When Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego, her face was that of a woman of mixed blood, a mestiza, and her garments bore many symbols of the native culture. Like Jesus, Mary is close to all her sons and daughters; as a concerned mother, she accompanies them on their way through life. She shares all the joys and hopes, the sorrows and troubles of God’s People, which is made up of men and women of every race and nation.
When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.
That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.