Mary in the Americas

By Marc Massery

This is the second article in a series on approved apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in the barren North American desert to an Aztec native, 57-year-old Juan Diego. As this recent Catholic convert was making his way to morning Mass, he heard beautiful music playing near Tepeyac Hill outside of Mexico City, Mexico. From a cloud appeared a young woman, shining like the sun, standing over the moon. She was dressed like an Aztec princess, adorned in a gold gown and covered by a blue mantle, spangled with stars. Juan Diego fell to his knees in prayer. The woman called out to him, "Juanito," the familiar form of his name.

"I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus," she said. The Blessed Mother instructed Juan Diego to tell Bishop Juan de Zumarraga of Mexico City, Mexico, to build a church at the base of Tepeyac Hill. She continued, "Here ... I will give all my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection to the people."

Juan Diego went immediately to the Bishop's palace and told him everything he had seen and heard. The Bishop did not believe his story. Juan Diego, therefore, went back to Tepayac Hill to speak with Mary. With tears in his eyes, he told her that he felt unworthy to persuade the Bishop to build her church. But Mary said, "My little son, there are many I could send [for this task]. But you are the one I have chosen." She instructed him to petition the Bishop once again. The next morning, Juan Diego did as Our Lady had asked. This time, the Bishop asked for a sign from Mary to verify the apparition.

Soon thereafter, on Dec. 12, Mary appeared to Juan Diego again. She instructed him to go to the top of Tepeyac Hill where he would find roses in full bloom. She wanted him to pick them, and bring them back down. Juan Diego started up the hill, but he doubted he would find roses growing in the middle of winter. When he reached the top, though, amidst the rocky terrain, he found beautiful, exotic roses, just as Mary had predicted. Our Lady arranged them in Juan Diego's tilma (a type of cloak) and instructed him to take the flowers to the Bishop as a sign.

Juan Diego stood before the Bishop and opened his tilma to reveal the roses. As the flowers fell to the floor, there appeared, imprinted on his tilma, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was dressed just as he had seen her on Tepayac Hill. The Bishop knelt in reverence before the Blessed Mother. With this proof, he agreed to have the church built just as the Virgin Mary requested.

Over the next several years, this image of Our Lady of Guadalupe converted millions of Aztecs to Catholicism. It can be seen today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The title "Guadalupe" comes from a misunderstanding of a word in Nahuatl (Juan Diego's native language), coatlaxopeuh, which means "she who crushes the head of the serpent."
In the 1970s, scientists verified that this image contains no evidence that it was produced by an artist. It seems to have appeared on the tilma spontaneously, all at once. Science also cannot explain why the tilma, made of cactus fibers, has not shown any signs of deterioration after all this time.

View the next article in this series.

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