Have you ever wondered why Mexicans are predominately Catholic? There’s an astounding reason for this, one that can be traced back nearly 500 years to an incident which occurred near present day Mexico City. The story I’m about to tell you is so significant and so powerful that it would be difficult to overestimate it’s significance in North American history. It was the year 1531 and the behavior of the Spanish colonials were making it difficult for the Church to share the faith. Catholic missionaries had only arrived in the area six or seven years before. Conventional means of winning hearts to Christianity were not working very well. There was a sense of urgency because Aztec people of the area were practicing bloody human sacrifice in their religious rituals.
One Saturday morning, Dec 9, 1531. A humble 57 year old Aztec man, Juan Diego, was walking to Mass and catechism class. He and his wife had been among the first natives to convert to Christianity. Walking along the hill of Mt. Tepeyac, he was astonished to encounter the vision of a dazzling and powerful woman dressed like a native Aztec princess, She asked him to go immediately to the local bishop and tell him to build a church on the spot where she was standing. Overwhelmed, Juan did what she asked. The bishop didn’t know whether to believe Juan Diego. Being either too busy or too skeptical or both, he told him to go away and that he would consider this request later when he had more time.
Disappointed that he had failed to win the bishop’s attention, Juan Diego returned to the lady to report his failure. He asked her to send someone of greater prominence so that the bishop would listen to him. The Lady said no, Juan should return to the bishop the next day to bring him the same request again. So Juan Diego did just that.
Noting Juan’s persistence, the bishop said okay, “Bring me proof, a sign, so I can believe it is the Blessed Mother who sends you.” So Juan Diego returned to Our Lady once more, this time asking for a sign. Our Lady told him to come back the next morning and she would have something for him.
But Juan Diego did not return the next day. Instead, he went to find a priest to bring the Sacrament of the Sick to his uncle who was very ill and possibly dying. But along the way, Our Lady intercepted him and told him that his uncle had already recovered. Her words to Juan Diego were so memorable that they are constantly repeated today. I read them every time I use this coffee cup in the morning:
She then told Juan Diego that the next day, if he went to the place where they first met, he would find some flowers. Juan agreed, but first returned to his uncle and found him in perfect health. His uncle shared how a woman had appeared to him and and told him that her name was the Lady of Guadalupe.
The next day, Juan Diego returned to the hill and immediately found roses. Two things made this remarkable: 1) It was the middle of winter, a time when flowers did not grow. 2) Roses had never grown in that area before.
Juan brought them to Our Lady and she touched them and rearranged them and sent him off to the bishop to present them as the sign he had requested. When Juan Diego arrived, the bishop was in no hurry to see him. In fact, he kept Juan waiting a very, very long time.
When the bishop finally agreed to see him, Juan Diego walked up to him and opened his cloak. Immediately, this caused a stir. Everyone present not only saw the flowers he was carrying, but also the inside of his cloak on which there was a miraculous image of Our Lady! The image was beautiful and full of powerful symbolism that spoke to the people in a special way.
Immediately, the Aztec people began to convert to Catholicism in large numbers – approximately 9 MILLION within the first seven years! The bishop fulfilled Our Lady’s request and built the church. That was almost 500 years ago. Today, over 22 MILLION people visit the shrine annually!!!
What was it about the image impressed upon Juan Diego’s tilma that has so powerfully moved so many many people over the centuries? THIS is where the story gets REALLY interesting. It is explained in this post. Read on…