The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe begins in the early morning of December 9, 1531, while a Native named Juan Diego was on his way to Mass and to continue his studies of the Christian faith.
When he reached the top of a hill called Tepeyac he suddenly heard the strains of beautiful music. Juan Diego thought at first that he had gone to heaven or was in some kind of paradise, because to him, as to other Natives of Mexico, music was a symbol of the divine, of the gods. The Natives felt that words alone could not adequately communicate the concept of god, so they represented the gods instead through music, singing, and other arts. Artists, they felt, had hearts that carried something of the divine, that made god visible to the world.
So when Juan Diego heard the beautiful music he knew he was in the presence of something special. He asked himself: "How can I be worthy of what I am hearing?"
Soon he heard a voice calling to him: "Juantzin, Juan Diegotzin."
By using this ending (-tzin) our Lady restores dignity to the poor Natives recognizing that he is worthy of respect.
Juan Diego walked up the hill to see who was calling his name and when he arrived to the top he saw our Lady just standing there. The fact that she was standing was a sign of simple nobleness. Addressing the people sitting down was an indication of control and superiority over the Natives.
She asked where he was going and he told her he was going to church. Our Lady then told him that she desired a temple so she could give us her love, compassion, help and defense. She continued to tell him that she was the "Holy Mary, Ever Virgin Mother of the True God . . . a merciful Mother to all . . . I listen to their sufferings."
She told him to go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico and tell him that she wanted a temple built there in the valley.
Juan Diego then went to see Bishop Juan de Zumñarraga, a Franciscan and bishop of Mexico. After much waiting, he finally was able to see the bishop, and told him of the Blessed Mother's desire.
The bishop, however, did not believe Juan's story at that time, and asked him to return a few days later after he had had time to study the matter - and to investigate Juan.
Called and Sent
Juan Diego felt frustrated and made his way back to the hill of Tepeyac never doubting that he would see Our Lady again. When he saw her he told her that the bishop had not believed him; but Our Lady again told Juan to return to the bishop to tell him again of her desire.
Juan Diego promised that he would, and the next day, December 10, after Mass, he again went to see the bishop. Again, after much difficulty, he eventually succeeded in getting to the bishop, repeating the message from Our Blessed Mother.
This time the bishop was more inclined to trust Juan, but nevertheless told him that he would have to bring some sign as proof that the woman he had seen was the Blessed Mother.
Juan returned to the hill of Tepeyac, where he told the Virgin of the bishop's request. He felt frustrated that he could not accomplish what the Blessed Mother requested. On his knees he begged her to send someone else because he was a "nobody". He requested that she send someone more important so that the bishop would pay attention to that person.
The Blessed Mother bent down and picked Juan Diego up. She told him that she could send legions of angels, but that she has chosen him to go to the bishop. What this world rejects, God chooses to do His great work. Now Juan Diego stood with dignity and pride. He was an evangelizer sent by the Blessed Mother to do God's work.
A Miracle and a Sign
Our Lady told him to return the next day and he would receive his sign. But the next day, December 11, Juan had to care for his dying uncle, Juan Bernardino, who near day's end asked him to get a priest so that he could go to Confession and receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
Very early the following day, December 12, Juan set out to get a priest, but tried to avoid the hilltop of Tepeyac because he was ashamed at not having returned to the spot the previous day as Our Lady had told him. But as he was taking a roundabout route Our Lady came down from the top of the hill and again asked him where he was going.
Juan told her of his uncles's illness and that he had felt the need to care for him. Our Lady assured him that his uncle would not die, and Juan renewed his offer to go to the bishop with any sign she would give.
Our Lady instructed him to go to the top of the hill, where she first appeared to him and, there he will find a variety of flowers in full bloom. She told him to gather the flowers and bring them to her. When he reached the summit he was surprised to see all the flowers, since they were out of season and everything was frozen.
He picked the flowers, placed them in his tilma, or cloak, and brought them to her.
Our Lady then told Juan to take them to the bishop as a sign.
Juan did, and when he was with the bishop he repeated Our Lady's message and said he had brought a sign. He then unfolded his tilma, and the roses came tumbling out.
The bishop, seemingly overwhelmed by something even greater than the miracle of the roses, got up from his throne, knelt before Juan, and began praying.
Juan, in wonderment, then looked down at his tilma, and saw there the Image of the Blessed Virgin, exactly as she appeared to him on the hill of Tepeyac.
A shrine of adobe was then erected at that sight, in time for Christmas.
A number of churches have held the famed Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the four centuries since the apparition.
In 1976 a huge new shrine was dedicated to her near the site where Juan Diego first saw her. Since that time she has been proclaimed the Empress of the Americas - a patron for everyone - because when she appeared there were no national boundaries, as we know them today, separating countries in this hemisphere.
Juan Diego was canonized a saint by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002. Saint Juan Diego's feast day is December 9.
2004 Reprinted From the Mexican American Cultural Center, an original publication of the Denver Catholic Register. Permission Pending.