Today we celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The shrine in Mexico City is the biggest in the world and receives some 20 million pilgrims annually. It has an even greater significance for the peoples of the Americas – especially the indigenous – than say Lourdes would have here in Europe. The centre piece of the shrine is the miraculous image of Our Lady left on the mantle of St Juan Diego on the occasion of her final appearance in the presence of Bishop De Zumarraga. I had this image on the front of my ordination card. Scientific studies have revealed amazing facts about the miraculous nature of the image – similar to the Shroud of Turin. Nine years after the appearance, some 9 million people had converted to Christianity, the largest mass conversion in Church history.
By 1531 very few Aztecs had become Christians. One such convert had taken the name Juan Diego. He was in his fifties and since his wife had died he was living with his uncle Bernardino who was also a Christian. Early on the morning of December 9th, which was then the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Juan Diego set out to walk the several miles to Mass. As he passed a hill called Tepayac he heard music, then someone calling him. The female voice spoke in his own Aztec language and used the diminutive or affectionate form of his name as though he was a personal friend or a brother or son. He clambered up the hill and when he got to the top saw an amazing vision of a beautiful girl who looked about fourteen years old. She asked him where he was going and he replied that he was on his way to Mass. Then she said:
“Know for certain, dearest of sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things, who is master of heaven and Earth. I ardently desire a teocallie (shrine or temple – literally ‘a house of God’) to be built here for me where I will show and offer all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the mother of all who live united in this land, and of all of mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrows, and will remedy and alleviate their sufferings, necessities and misfortunes. Now that you have heard my words my son, go and do everything as best as you can.”
The Aztecs had long had an awareness of a creator god who they referred to as ‘He by whom everything lives’. Mary identified herself as the mother of this God. The sceptical bishop asked for a sign which was duly supplied by Our Lady who directed Juan Diego to pick Castillian roses on a desert hill in the middle of winter.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has recently made it into the Church’s liturgical calendar outside of the Americas because she is the patroness of the pro-life movement. Her appearance was instrumental in ending the widespread practice of human sacrifice prevalent in the Aztec culture. According to an Aztec chronicler 20,000 young men were sacrificed during the dedication ceremonies for a new temple in 1487. Abortion is but a present-day manifestation of same. In the UK alone some 7.5 million preborn babies have been killed by surgical abortion – equal to the combined populations of Wales and the Irish Republic.
A song entitled Our Lady of Guadalupe can be listened to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oUlFt5VErg