When the Spaniard Cortez landed in Mexico, he not only brought with him soldiers to conquer the land for Spain, he also brought with him Franciscan priests to convert and ‘conquer’ the native people for God, who were at the time following the Aztec leaders and their pagan idols. These Aztec ‘priests’ were some of the most horrible leaders, often times calling for the sacrifice of thousands of people at a time to appease their angry idols. They also were partakers of the horrible ritualistic cannibalism….particularly of the young and innocent.
When the Franciscans taught the Indians about the Faith, they were kind and gentle..their demeanor was so different than that of their own ‘priests’ that some of the natives were converted immediately, just by their kindness. A humble Indian farmer named Cuauhtlatoazin and his wife were several of the first to be baptized as Christians. He took the Christian name of Juan Diego and his wife took the name Maria Lucia. They were a happy, but poor farming couple who were never blessed with any children. Then, just four years after receiving the sacrament of baptism, his wife became ill and died, at this time Juan Diego moved to a nearby village to care for his elderly uncle, Juan Bernardino, who had become a Christian as well.
Juan Diego was a very humble and religious man. He would walk nine miles to Mass every Saturday and Sunday morning, so that he could listen to the priest instruct him about the Faith. It was on one such journey on December 9th, in the year 1531, that Juan Diego heard a gentle rustling sound coming from Tepeyac Hill. It was music to his ears…a very beautiful song…pausing, he looked towards the Hill, trying to see what type of birds were singing such a melodious song. Then raising his eyes to the top of the hill, he saw a radiant cloud of white. Rubbing his eyes…he thought…‘Surely I must be dreaming’.…
All of a sudden, the song stopped and the gentle voice of a woman called to him. It was the most beautiful…grace filled voice he had ever heard...and She was calling him by name….”Juanito…Juan Dieguito…the most humble of my sons…my little dear.”
As quickly as he could, he climbed the hill, finding himself in the presence of a most beautiful young woman whose garments shone like the sun. As he knelt before Her, She began to speak to him in his native tongue of Nahuatl. She asked him, “Juanito, my son, where are you going?”
Glancing up towards the Lady he told her that he was going to Mass in Tenochtitlan, which is present day Mexico City, to listen to the divine things that the priest would teach him. She replied,
“I want you to know for certain, my dear son, that I am the perfect and always Virgin MARY, Mother of the True God from Whom all life comes, the Lord of all things, Creator of Heaven and Earth. I greatly desire that a church be built in my honor, in which I will show my love, compassion, and protection. I am your Mother full of mercy and love for you and all those who love Me, trust in Me, and have recourse to Me. I will hear their complaints and I will comfort their affliction and their sufferings. So that I might show all My love, go now to the bishop in Mexico City and tell him that I am sending you to make known to him the great desire I have to see a church dedicated to me built here.“
Quickly, Juan Diego headed straight to the bishop, Bishop Zumárraga, who was a Franciscan and a very pious man himself. Juan Diego told him what had happened, and the bishop listened attentively. But because Juan was a poor man and the story sounded so fabulous, the bishop thought for sure that it was all just an illusion, and sent the old Indian on his way. It was late in the day, with the evening setting it shadows over the lands, as Juan made his way to Tepeyac Hill. Stopping at the foot of the dark hill, he looked up to where he could see a bright light shining from on high… He knew the Blessed Virgin was there…waiting for his answer. Ashamed that he was not able to persuade the bishop to listen, he climbed the hill slowly and knelt before the Blessed Mother once again. Not daring to look at Her, he told Her about his failed mission. With feelings of shame he added,
“I beg you to entrust your message to someone more known and respected so that he will believe it. I am only a simple Indian whom you have sent as a messenger to an important person. Therefore, he didn’t believe me, and I do not want to greatly disappoint you.”
In a voice that reflected Her upmost kindness She replied,
“My dearest son, you must understand that there are many more noble men to whom I could have entrusted my message and yet, it is because of you that my plan will succeed. Return to the bishop tomorrow… Tell him that it is I myself, the Blessed Virgin MARY, Mother of God, who am sending you.”
On Sunday morning after Mass, Juan went back to the bishop’s house. He was questioned extensively by the prelate. He was also told to ask the Blessed Mother for a tangible sign that would prove that the apparition was real. Again, as he made his way toward’s Tepeyac Hill, he was greeted by the beautiful Virgin. After he relayed the bishop’s request for a sign, She told him, “Come back tomorrow morning to seek the sign he is asking for.”
The old Indian left for home. Arriving home several hours later, he found that his uncle was very ill. By the next morning his condition had deteriorated and it seemed that death was nearby. The weakened uncle asked his nephew to go find a priest to help him on his journey. So at dawn on December 12th, Juan Diego headed out towards the city. He had no intention of visiting the Blessed Mother…his one concern was finding a priest for his uncle. As to not meet the Virgin, he diverted his path and made his way around the Hill, hoping to avoid Her.
But suddenly, there she was, in all her splendor…approaching the embarrassed Indian. Quickly resuming his humble posture, he once again knelt before Her and told Her about the his uncle’s illness. He promised that he would come back once he had secured a priest to administer last rites to his dying uncle. In Her tender compassionate way, the Blessed Mother said,
“My dear little one do not be distressed about your uncle’s illness, because he will not die from it. I assure you that he will get well… Go to the top of the hill, pick the flowers that you will see there, and bring them to me.”
When Juan Diego arrived at the top of the hill, he was stunned to find a great number of flowers in bloom They were Castillian roses that give off a very distinctively sweet fragrance.The roses were abundant, growing in a place that allows nothing to survive…in the middle of winter at that! Surely the bishop would believe him now! With a child like excitement, Juan Diego gathered up the roses, as many as he could wrap in his cloak, or tilma, and ran back down the hill. The beautiful Lady was waiting there, She told him,
“My dear son, these flowers are the sign that you are to give the bishop… This will get him to build the church that I have asked of him.”
Juan Diego ran to the bishop’s house. When he arrived, the servants, who recognized him from before, made him wait for hours. They hoped that he would get tired of waiting and just leave. But the old Indian showed great patience, and sat there patiently. He held on his lap something wrapped in his tilma….something, that he held with tenderness…and love…Every time he cradled his tilma, a peaceful look rested on his face. He seemed perfectly content sitting there, he did not even seem to be bothered at the way they were making him wait. Finally, either out of kindness towards his peaceful demeanor, or out of curiosity at what he had wrapped in his cloak, the servants finally informed the bishop that he was there. Even tough the bishop was meeting with several other people at the time, he was eager to see if the old man had brought him the proof he had asked for.
Juan Diego stood in front of the bishop and his guests, telling them about his adventure. As he finished his story he let go of his tilma, releasing the roses, which were as fragrant as ever…and still shining with dew…as they fell and scattered to the floor. The Bishop Zumárraga immediately fell to his knees…his eyes full of tears. Picking up the roses, he was in awe as he admired them. He was inhaling the sweetness of their scent… when his eyes caught sight of the image on the old tilma…It was a beautiful image of the Blessed Mother! It was as if it had been painted on the cloak…The image was absolutely beautiful and Our Lady’s image was full of kindness. Overcome with emotion, the bishop immediately believed in the wonderful sign that the old Indian had brought him from the Blessed Virgin. He gathered up the roses and led Juan Diego to his rectory. He then took the tilma from Juan Diego, and with great care, placed the roses and the tilma in his private oratory. He insisted that the old Indian stay the night, instead of making the long journey home.
The next day he traveled with Juan Diego to the hill where the apparitions had taken place. After having examined the sites, he let Juan return to his uncle’s house. Juan, was amazed! During his absence, his uncle had been completely healed! His cure had taken place at the exact hour that the Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego. Bernardino told his nephew, “I have also seen her. She even came here and talked to me. She wants a church to be built on Tepeyac Hill and wants her portrait to be called ‘Saint MARY of Guadalupe.’ But she didn’t explain to me why.”
The news of the appearance of the Blessed Virgin spread like wildfire among the natives, who because of the empty nature of their Aztec faith, were longing for the Truth. The native population appreciated her appearance. They recognized that Our Lady loved them. She appeared to them as one of them…a dark skinned woman. She also chose an Indian to relay Her message…speaking in their language. When Juan Diego explained that she appeared at Tepeyac, the place of Tonantzin, they recognized it as the place which had been prophesied years ago as being the place of ‘the mother god‘. This sent a clear message to the native people that the Virgin Mary was the mother of the true God, and that the Christian religion was to replace their Aztec religion. The Indians, who gathered their information through pictures and symbols, understood the image of the tilma, which revealed the beautiful message of Christianity. The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe led to an explosion of conversions. The missionaries were overwhelmed… thousands and thousands of people converted immediately after viewing the image on the tilma, and the priests were busy as the natives called on them to perform many baptisms. The pagan land was converted!
In the years that followed, Juan Diego lived next to the chapel at Tepeyac and showed the tilma. He explained the apparition and its Christian significance to pilgrims who visited the shrine. He died on May 30, 1548 and was buried at Tepeyac. Bishop Zumárrage died only three days after Juan Diego. Saint Juan Diego’s feast day is December 9th, and the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12th.
As we enter into the second week of advent, let us pause and reflect upon this humble…’lowly’ saint….who felt that he was not important enough to fulfill the Blessed Mother’s request…Let us remember that God often chooses the little ones to do His work. And like St. Juan Diego, who was afraid, and wanted to hide…When we are afraid….when we feel shame…let us ask Our Blessed Mother’s intercession, so that we may obtain the grace we need to fulfill our duties and do God’s holy work here on earth. Saint Juan Diego, pray for us. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.