MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (1531) “Our Lady of Guadalupe”
Juan Diego (57) was a farm worker and mat maker who had lost his beloved wife and had only one surviving relative, an uncle, Juan Bernardino. He was one of 15 million Aztec Indians who had new freedoms after the Spanish conquistadors had overrun the ruthless Aztec chieftains. On December 9, 1531, he was traveling his daily route past the hill of Tepeyac when he saw a cloud encircled with a rainbow of colors and heard strange music. A woman’s voice was calling above the music. Ascending the crest of the hill he encountered a strikingly beautiful woman standing there, beckoning to him. She radiated such light and joy that he dropped to his knees and smiled at her in wonderment. The leaves of plants were aglow; the bushes and trees shone like polished gold. She spoke seriously yet lovingly with him:
“You must know and be very certain in your heart, my son, that I am truly the perpetual and perfect Virgin Mary, holy Mother of the true God through whom everything lives,the Creator and Master of Heaven and Earth. I wish and intensely desire that in this place my sanctuary be erected so that in it I may show and make known and give all my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection to the people. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all of you 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 seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate their suffering, necessities, and misfortunes. And so that my intention may be made known, you must go to the house of the bishop of Mexico and tell him that I sent you, and that it is my desire to have a sanctuary built here.”
He immediately went at that early hour of dawn to the bishop’s house and was reluctantly received. The bishop, Don Zumarraga, listened respectfully but did not really believe him and told him to return in a few days after he thought about it. Juan Diego could sense his disbelief and became disillusioned when he left. But on the road home, the Lady appeared a second time. He was ashamed and suggested that she get somebody more influential for this job. But she smiled and reassured him that he would be successful. Holding his trembling hands in hers, she said,
“My little son, there are many that I could send to the Bishop. But you are the one whom I have chosen for this assignment. One day all will know my love for you and all my little children. Tomorrow morning you must return to the Bishop and express again my great desire for a church in this place.”
On the next day after Mass, he returned to the bishop’s house but was told to now provide proof that this was indeed the Virgin Mary and that she really wanted a church built on Tepeyac Hill. The bishop sent two servants to secretly follow him but they said he disappeared into thin air before their eyes. Juan Diego had actually entered the mystical realm of Mary as she appeared to him a third time and agreed to give him that desired “proof” on the next day.
“My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son.”
He was overjoyed — but that was short-lived as he found his uncle — his only living relative — gravely ill upon returning home. As he could not leave his uncle’s side the next day, he was forced to not show up for Mary to receive the sign of proof she had promised. He felt horrible, but when he did manage to get out on the following day, he took a different route, hoping to not run into her. However, he suddenly ran into her, face-to-face. He begged her forgiveness and told her about his sick uncle. She reassured him with these words:
“Listen and be sure, my dear son, that I will protect you. Do not be frightened or grieved or let your heart be dismayed however great the illness may be that you speak of. Am I not here, I who am your Mother, and is not my help a refuge? Am I not of your kind? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do not be concerned about your uncle’s illness, for he is not going to die. Be assured, he is already well. Is there anything else you need?”
She directed him to climb to the top of the barren Tepeyac Hill where he would find roses growing miraculously among the thistles and thornbush in the winter. There was a lush abundance of every color of rose. He picked them and carried them to the Blessed Mother, and she arranged them in his cloak, which he then folded shut for his journey to the bishop’s house.
“My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop.