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You Are A Mestiza!
© 2007 Kay Murdy

You might wonder why an Anglo, middle class woman of European descent is writing about the Virgin of Guadalupe, traditionally a devotion of Mexico, as well as the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Allow me to explain how this came to be. One summer I attended Building Inclusive Communities, a week long Institute on Multiculturalism held at Mount St. Mary's college where I received a Masters Degree in Religious Studies. The institute is devoted to exploring the rich diversity of the many cultures in our Catholic community. In the Los Angeles Archdiocese where I live, Mass is celebrated in 42 different dialects and languages on any given Sunday.

On the first day of the Institute, I was speaking with an Mexican gentlemen and he told me: "You are a mestiza." This puzzled me as I believed a mestiza was a woman of mixed race, the offspring of Spaniard or Portuguese and Indian parentage. The man then asked me what my ethnic heritage was. I told him that I was Hungarian and Irish. He repeated, "You are a mestiza!" As the week progressed I began to see that we are all "Mestizos." We are all of mixed parentage, people that come from someplace else.

Healing of Juan Bernardino
Then this gentleman showed me a drawing that represented the Virgin of Guadalupe who appeared simultaneously to Juan Diego and his dying uncle Juan Bernardino who was cured when he beheld the image. Mary of Guadalupe represents God's action on the side of the poor and defenseless in a world that negates the pre-born, the elderly, the sick and dying and those under the death penalty. The spirituality of Mary of Guadalupe is not just a pious devotion belonging to a particular group.

Janet Barber, a Guadalupan scholar, writes, "If our devotion to Mary of Guadalupe does not move us to action in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, then it is not true Guadalupan devotion." Our Lady of Guadalupe makes our struggles her own as demonstrated by those who carried her banner during the Mexican War of Independence and the Farm Workers' movement in the United States. Some have questioned Mary's roll as not being necessary for salvation. It is true, Mary is not "necessary;" she is a gift. There are many precious things in life that are not necessary.

Time Travel 
Let us step back in history to the early 16th century. As the European Church was being torn apart by the Reformation, God was building a Church in the New World. When Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World, his ships were named "Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria." Nina means "little girl." Pinta means "paint." And of course Santa Maria is "St. Mary." God was about to paint a picture of a little girl in the new world -- Santa Maria! It was the time of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec-Nahuatl, the native-American people of northern Mexico, who referred to themselves as Mexica or Tenochca. The great city of Tenochtitlán, modern day Mexico City, included Montezuma's splendid palace, government, hospitals, botanical gardens, zoo, market places, canals and aqueducts, and twin pyramids, dedicated to the sun and the moon, that rivaled those in Egypt.

Aztec Calendar

The Aztecs excelled in astronomy. Their 26 ton circular stone calendar was a version of the Mayan calendar, the most accurate calendar produced up to that time. The Aztec calendar was divided into 18 months of a 52 year cycle. According to Aztec belief, each cycle's end possibly signaled the end of the world. The first and most remote of the four cosmogony epochs was the Sun of the Jaguar. The Aztecs believed that the earth's inhabitants of the First Sun were giants that did not till the soil but lived in caves, and were finally attacked and devoured by jaguars. Archaeologists have discovered bones of such animals buried in deep gullies. With the Second Epoch, the Sun of the Winds, it was said that humanity was destroyed by great winds. Large forests have been found that were razed by great tornadoes. The Third Epoch, the Sun of Fiery Rain, was believed to have ended when everything was extinguished by the rain of lava and fire. Signs of volcanic activity and huts and skeletons have been found under layers of lava and ashes. The Fourth Epoch, the Sun of Water, was thought to have ended when everything perished because of torrential rains that caused massive floods that covered the earth and reached the peaks of the mountains (similar to the story of Noah in the Bible). The discovery of fossilized species of marine life on the mountain tops is the basis for this belief.

The Aztecs believed that they were living in the era of the Fifth and last Epoch, the Sun of the Earthquake, which began in 1507. According to Aztec belief, there was a constant struggle between the Sun God (Tonatium) and the God of Night (Xiuhtecutl) who fought all through the night. As a sign of their great anger, both gods dressed themselves up with the Xiucoatls, mythic celestial serpents for this cosmic battle. It was believed there was only a limited supply of energy in the cosmos. Today we know that there is a limited supply of energy in the sun. Scientists estimate that the sun's age is about 5 billion years, and it is roughly midway through its life span. That means it has only 5 billion years to go!

The Aztecs believed that if the sun was to continue to expend its energy in its daily and nightly struggle to rise and set, the people would have to satisfy the gods with rituals and sacrifices, including a steady diet of human blood. According to Aztec belief, in natural death a person's energy is slowly leaked away. But through blood sacrifice a sudden burst of energy would return more energy to the sun. This concept has been likened to the sudden energy released by a nuclear bomb. As a consequence of this, sacrificial religious ceremonies were performed as each cycle came to a close. It is believed that the Aztecs offered annually at least 20,000 men, women and children in human sacrifice to their gods. In 1487, just in a five day ceremony for the dedication of a new temple in Tenochtitlán, some 80,000 captives were killed in human sacrifice. 

Aztec Sacrifice
On the summit of the Star Hill overlooking Tenochtitlán, activity in the normally bustling metropolis ceased for five full days. Commerce was suspended, and household fires were extinguished. It was a time of fasting, sexual abstinence and uneasy waiting. the city's priest / astronomers anxiously watched the heavens for nature's sign. It was not until the Pleiades appeared on the horizon that the sacred New Year's ritual could begin.

At the moment the brilliant star cluster reached its zenith, a noble captive was guided to the sacrificial stone. A priest, with one swift stoke of a razor-sharp knife, slashed open their honored victim's chest, ripped out the still beating heart and cast it upon a blazing brazier. One by one the priests stepped forward to ignite their torches, then turned toward the darkened city to relay the New Fire, first to the altars of the Templo Mayor and then to every temple and hearth throughout the empire.

This ceremony marked the commencement of the New Year and the start of a new 52 year calendar cycle. The Aztecs believed that if the New Fire failed to ignite, the sun would surely perish. But on this night the gods were pleased. El Quinto Sol, the Fifth Sun, would continue to illuminate the empire. The forces of darkness had been routed by the power of light. Or had they?

One wonders whether the priests had some foreboding of their civilization's imminent doom. Did they foresee that only a few years hence the mighty Tenochtitlán would be laid waste by those who would steadily destroy and suppress them? As it happened, two groups of peoples that never suspected the existence of each other suddenly came face-to-face. In 1519, Hernan Cortés and his Conquistadores landed in Mexico. By 1521 the Empire of the Aztecs fell to these gun-bearing "gods turned monsters" from unknown lands. 

In earlier times, Quetzalcoatl, the god of civilization, taught of the existence of a Supreme Being, the Creator of all things, whose help and blessings they were to seek through worship that did not involve human sacrifice. However, Quetzalcoatl, had been driven away by a rival god and had sailed across the sea, promising to return to rule Mexico again. His return was predicted to come in the year corresponding to 1519 on the Aztec Calendar. Due to the Aztec legend, Montezuma II thought Quetzalcoatl had returned when Cortés and his troops invaded. The Emperor did not resist and was taken prisoner by Cortés. From reading the signs of earth and sky, they believed that their time was coming to an end. Many scholars today are convinced that this was one of the decisive forces that kept the natives from fighting against the Spaniards. They were defeated even before the battles started.

The conquest of the Aztec-Nahuatl Empire began on Good Friday 1519 and they were defeated in 1531. Within ten years of the conquest and occupation, millions of Indians died in battle, by European diseases, by cruel forced labor, and by the appropriation of Indian crop lands. One empire replaced another, but for the poor, who continued to be abused and exploited, nothing changed.

Spanish Missionaries
After the arrival of the Conquistadores, the first Roman Catholic Spanish missionaries came in 1524. Among their converts was a man baptized with the Christian name Juan Diego. In spite of the missioners' condemnation of the cruelties and abuses of the conquest, they demanded that the Indians break with the religious customs of their native mothers. Whatever appeared diabolic had to be eliminated. The natives had to be brought under Christ's dominion, and the dominion of the king and queen of Spain. Burning the Aztec temples to build Christian temples struck at the roots of the Indian soul. The missioners provoked the fear of damnation in those Indians who did not come to religious instruction. They beat and imprisoned them to teach them the Christian doctrine of God's love and mercy. In the missionaries zeal to build a church in the New world they destroyed the Indians in a different way.

The U.S. Bishops' pastoral on world mission "To the Ends of the Earth" states:

Mission is characterized not by power and the need to dominate, but by a deep concern for the salvation of others and a profound respect for the ways they have already searched for and experienced God. The ground in which we are called to plant the Gospel is holy ground, for before our arrival God has already visited the people he knows and loves. In this ground, sown with the seeds of God's word, a local church is born, a Church that expresses its vitality in the language of its own culture.

Yet, in the midst of the dying cultural of a conquered people, the good news was announced to Juan Diego, a 57 year old Indian peasant, certainly an old age in a time and place where the male life expectancy was barely 40. He represented his people, bent over with hard work and humiliation. 

When Juan Diego had his encounter on Tepeyac hill, he was on his way to Tlatelolco to learn about God from the newly arrived European missionaries. For the native peoples, Tepeyac was the sacred mountain of Tonantzin, the Mother goddess of the Indians who had been in the Valley of Mexico long before the arrival of the Aztecs. In the Nahuatl language, Tonantzin means "Our mother." Mary of Guadalupe is the Mother of the true God, Mother of our Savior. Jesus gave his disciples the prayer, "Our Father." On the cross, his last words were spoken to John giving Mary to us as "Our Mother."

Juan Diego
Juan Diego responded to the divine call and ascended to the top of the hill just as Moses climbed the mountain to become the mediator between God and the people. Although the Spanish missionaries never called natives to the priesthood, at Tepeyac, Juan Diego functioned as a priest and prophet.

When the Aztec priests and their victims ascended the pyramid temples they performed human sacrifices, but at Tepeyac there were no victims, no altar or battlefield. Just as God entered the world as a powerless infant, not through the sword of the Pax Romana, so too a new creation for the Indian people was about to take place through a humble peasant.

A Nahuatl scholar put the memories of the events of 1531 into writing in the Nican Mopohua (NM), a 16th century document written in the native Nahuatl language. He wrote that in the presence of the beautiful singing of the birds on the hill of Tepeyac, Juan Diego knew he was already in God's realm. It was not the beauty of the Aztec temples nor the cathedrals of Spain. Juan Diego said to himself, "Where am I? Is it possible that I am in the place of our ancestors, in the land of corn, of our flesh, possibly in the land of heaven?" When the singing stopped a beautiful dark-skinned maiden who called Juan Diego "my son," declared herself to be the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. She called to him telling him to come close, "Juanita, Juan Dieguito! Little Juan, my little Diego!" God told the Hebrews, "I call you each by name" (Is 45:34).

Woman Clothed with the Sun
The virgin's clothing was shining like the sun, and the crag on which she stood seemed to give out rays of light. The earth seemed to shine with the brilliance of a rainbow, the mesquites, cactus and other scrubby plants seemed to glow like emeralds, their leaves like turquoise, and their thorns shining like gold (NM). 

The book of Revelation says: A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth (Revelation 12:1-2).

Far from being clothed like an Indian princes as we often hear, Mary of Guadalupe was wearing the same type of garments that she wore in Palestine some 1500 years earlier. She even wore a little undershirt on that cold wintry day. When Juan beheld the Virgin, he prostrated himself and listened to her words:

Know for sure my dearest son, that I am the perfect ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the one great God of truth who gives us life, the creator of people, of what is around us, and what is very close to us, the creator of the sky and of the earth (NM).

compassionate gaze
The Virgin instructed Juan Diego to go to the bishop of the region and tell him of her request for a "little house," or temple (teocalli). "Here I will give God to the people in all my personal love, in my compassionate gaze." 

I am your compassionate mother, yours and of all the people who live as one in this land, and of all the other people of different ancestries, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. because here I will listen to their weeping, their sadness, to remedy, to cleanse and nurse all their different troubles, their miseries, their sufferings (NM).

When Juan Diego went to the Bishop, Juan Zumárraga, he listened kindly, but was under obligation to suspend belief until he could validate the story. He asked Juan Diego to return another day. Juan returned to Tepeyac with the idea of giving up the task; however, the Virgin appeared again. Juan begged her:

My dearest patroness, my lady Queen, my smallest daughter, I went where you sent me in order to fulfill your word. He received me kindly and listened, but from the way he answered me, he thinks the house you want them to build here for you may be my invention . . . I beg you very much, my Lady Queen, my little girl, entrust one of the noblemen, someone who is esteemed, who is known, respected, honored to carry out your word, so that they will believe him (NM).

Mary answered him:

Listen the smallest of my sons, be assured that those who serve me, my messengers, entrusted to carry out my word, are not few in number. But it is very necessary that my wish be carried out through your intercession (NM). 

Despite his humble protest the Virgin repeated the assignment. Juan obeyed her and on Sunday, December 10, he went to see the Bishop again. Because Juan passed the first test by repeating the story without variation, the bishop asked for a sign from the woman. Juan intended to do this, but his uncle Juan Bernardino, was extremely ill, possibly from Small Pox carried by the European conquerors, and he wanted a priest to hear his confession. At midnight on Monday, December 11, Juan started the long trek to Tlatelolco. He tried to avoid meeting the Virgin as he approached Tepeyac Hill, still in utter darkness. But Mary intercepted him: "What is it, smallest of my sons? Where are you going?" Juan fell prostrate and greeted her:

"My little girl, my smallest daughter, my child. I hope you are happy, how are you this morning? Is your dear little body well my Lady, my child?" (NM).

When she heard his excuses the Virgin said:

"Listen, put it in your heart my dearest son, that the things that frighten you, the things that afflict you, are nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not fear sickness nor any hurtful thing. Am I not here, I , who am your Mother? Are you not under my shade and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, here in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?" (NM).

The Virgin confirmed her petition to build a "little house" for God that would symbolize a message of peace and help to the whole world. The Virgin instructed him to pick roses from the usually barren and desolate hill and deliver them to Zumarraga as the proof the bishop asked for. There, in spite of the winter frost, Juan Diego surprisingly found roses blooming in December. Juan picked them and put them inside his cloak, which is known as a tilma. After the Virgin arranged them with her own hands, Juan went to the bishop's house on Tuesday, December 12. When he opened the tilma, a cascade of Castellón roses fell to the ground, the same kind of roses that grew in the bishop's garden in Spain. 

When Juan Diego left his home on that Saturday, December 9, 1531, it was still the night of the Winter Solstice. When he arrived at Tepeyac hill the sun was beginning to dawn. In the Aztec-Nahuatl reading of cyclic creation, this might be called the beginning of the Sixth Sun. A new creation for the Indian people was about to occur.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

In the midst of power and oppression, a light appeared out of the darkness before the dawn to announce new life. In the apparition, the Virgin is seen at the center of creation surrounded by the sun, the stars and the moon. To the Indian mind the apparition of the Virgin signaled the day of the birth of the New Sun, the dawning of a new era. It is often said that she is blotting out the sun, proving that the Aztec worship of the sun god was over. This is only partially true. Mary transfigured their understanding of the sun god. She radiated Christ to them - in the many delicate gold designs of her tunic, in the glow of her aureole, or mandorla, a halo of golden rays that surrounds her, and she stands on a crescent moon which is supported by a winged angel, God's messenger. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe's Womb
The radiance that surrounds the Virgin of Tepeyac becomes brighter as it descends toward the womb. The height of Mary's sash and the folds of her tunic showed the Indians that she was pregnant. The black belt she is wearing is the Aztec Maternity Belt, a symbol that may have helped end the Aztec ritual of sacrificing children to appease their gods. Dr. Carlos Hernandez Del Castillo of Mexico City suggests that Mary is very close to giving birth to Jesus Christ. The Sun Child, El Niño Sol, is in its descending position, ready to come forth with light for a darkened world.

The Virgin's tunic is embroidered with strange flowers. They are not merely decorative elements. The Aztecs, who spoke the Nahuatl language, used "glyphs," or hieroglyphics, to tell a story. Janet Barber states that Nahuatl is a symbolic language that has meaning far beyond words. To the indigenous people the image was not only an extraordinary icon, but a "text, a document, dense with the symbolic language of the Mesoamerican peoples." When the Indians wanted to speak about divine revelation, they would refer to it in terms of "Flor y Canto," Flower and Song, the complementary union of two words called disfrasismos. One of the flowers on Mary's tunic is over her womb. It is the four-petaled Mexican Jasmine, the Flute-player Flower, Flor y Canto, which speaks of divine revelation through the Incarnation. Even though the Fifth Sun had died, the Sixth Sun was to be born, Jesus Christ, the "Sun of Justice with its healing rays" foretold in Malachi 3:20.The nine large Heart Flowers all over the tunic speak of Crucifixion. The Heart Flowers speak of resurrection as the blood-red seeds burst into new life, and are a metaphor for the beating heart torn from the sacrificial victim. The message of the Heart Flowers was that human sacrifices were unnecessary. The first letter of John says: 

God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 4:9-10).

While God's love seems obvious to Christians today, it was astonishing to the Indians because they did not associate the idea of love with God. After the Spanish conquest, the natives were told that they were incapable and unworthy of learning, often the experience of Mexican-Americans and Latinos in American schools today. The good news that Mary of Guadalupe brought is that all human beings are born with equal dignity and worth before God. 


For the dying Nahuatl people, Mary appeared on the day of the winter solstice, recognized by all cultures as the day of the sun's birth. The sky of the winter solstice which took place in 1531 is represented very accurately on the Virgin's mantle. Even Halley's comet is represented. The Boreal crown is above the Virgin's head, Virgo (Virgin) is on her breast. Leo is on her womb - Jesus the Lion from the tribe of Judah. Gemini, the twins, are found on her knees, and Orion, God's messenger, is depicted as an Angel.

Our Lady of Guadalupe's Posture
While the Spaniards saw the Virgin's hands in a position of prayer or intercession, by the position of her left knee, the Indians were able to see  that she was dancing and clapping her hands to the music. Dance was and is fiesta and prayer in the Mexican culture. Mary worships God with her entire being:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name  (Luke 1:46-49).

Our Lady of Guadalupe's Eyes
While there is no official documentation of the meeting between Juan Diego and the bishop, Juan Zumárraga, Mary has left us her own record in her "compassionate gaze." According to many scientists who have inspected the image, many figures are reflected in both her eyes, and in the precise location as would happen when human eyes reflect the objects before them. Scientific examination by reputable ophthalmologists reveal that the eyes contain the reflection of at least 13 human figures located in front of the image. The same people are present in both eyes, in different proportions.

Scholars believe that the reflection by the eyes of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the scene on December 12, 1531 when Juan Diego showed the tilma with the image to those present in the room. In 1979, José Aste Tonsmann, a Peruvian engineer of the Mexican Center of Guadalupan Studies, magnified the iris of the Virgin's eyes 2,500 times and, through mathematical and optical procedures, was able to identify all the people imprinted in the eyes. Tonsmann discerned a seated Indian, looking up to the heavens; the profile of a balding, elderly man with a white beard, much like the portrait of Bishop Zumarraga; and a younger man, probably the interpreter Juan Gonzalez.

Also present is an Indian, most likely Juan Diego, of striking features with a beard and mustache, who unfolds his tilma before the bishop; and a man with Spanish features who strokes his beard pensively. There also appears to be a black woman, an African, forced from her homeland and brought into slavery in the New World. She was possibly the bishop's servant -- a triple inculturation -- Spanish, Indian and Black!

Moreover in the center of the pupils, on a much more reduced scale, another scene can be perceived. It is that of an Indian family, including a man and several children and a baby carried in the woman's back. Tonsmann ventured an explanation for this second image. He believes it is a message kept hidden until modern technology was able to discover it when it was needed. "This could be the case of the picture of the family in the center of the Virgin's eye," the scientist says, "at a time when the family is under serious attack in our modern world." 

Our Lady of Guadalupe's Name
After the excitement of the apparition subsided, Juan Diego's concern for his dying uncle urged him to leave the Bishop's palace. The Bishop, now impressed by Juan Diego, sent men to accompany him to his relative's home. Juan Bernardino greeted his nephew with the story of a beautiful woman who had appeared to him and made him well. He said the woman had identified herself as "she who proceeds from the region of light, singing a song like the fire eagle." 

The origin of the name Guadalupe has always been a matter of controversy. It is nevertheless believed that the name came about because of the translation from Nahuatl to Spanish. When the elderly uncle of Juan Diego, Juan Bernardino, addressed the Bishop's interpreter Juan González in his native tongue, it may have sounded to him like "Guadalupe." Scholars say it is unlikely that the Indians used the Spanish name Guadalupe since the "g" and "d" sounds were unknown to them. It is thought that Our Lady used the Aztec Nahuatl word coatlaxopeuh, which is pronounced "quatlasupe" and sounds remarkably like the Spanish word Guadalupe. "Coa" means serpent and "tla" can be interpreted as "the," while "xopeuh" means to crush or stamp out. So Our Lady must have called herself the one "who crushes the serpent." In Genesis, the offspring of the woman will crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). 

Since the apparition occurred within the Octave of the Immaculate Conception, the Spaniards associated the name Guadalupe with the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Patroness of Extremadura in Spain from where most of the men who conquered Mexico came. In the choir area of the shrine in Extremadura there is an ancient statue of the Immaculate Conception. The statue was named "Guadalupe" for the village located near the place of its discovery after being lost for 600 years. The resemblance of the image of Guadalupe is startling. She too has golden rays surrounding her. There are stars on her blue mantle, her tunic is rose, and she is standing on a crescent moon supported by an angel. Unlike Guadalupe, she is carrying the Christ child in her arms.

Virgen Morena
The image of the Virgin is synthesized for both the Spaniards and the Indigenous peoples. Who but the Almighty God could not only reassure the Spaniards, and also give the Indians a profound teaching on their own terms. While neither group saw it in the terms of the other, they were evangelized from within their own culture. The Spaniards were convinced that the image represented the Immaculate Conception whom that they knew and loved. The Virgin appeared to the Indians as one of their own,  the “Virgen Morena” - the brown skinned virgin. Her features are not those of a Spanish woman nor of an Indian. They are mestiza, a combination of the two, a new humanity, a new Christian people.

Juan Diego’s tilma, or mantle (where the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was imprinted) has been carefully preserved in the new Basilica. Over the years it has been subjected to extensive analysis. Experts have authenticated the fabric as dating to the 16th century. There aren't a lot of clothes made in the 16th century that are still left in the world. And the tilma, made from a poor quality cactus-cloth, is especially hard to find. The reason is that the cactus fibers from which tilmas were made have a tendency to disintegrate after 50 years. Yet, almost 500 years later, Juan Diego's tilma is still intact. Even the ends are not badly frayed. The tilma consists of two pieces of coarse cloth made of natural fiber from the maguey cactus joined together in the center by a seam of thread made of the same material. The tilma measures roughly three feet wide and almost five feet tall. Our Lady herself, from her mantle to the tip of her slipper is some four feet nine inches tall.

What is more incredible, Richard Kuhn, the 1938 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, found that the image did not have natural, animal or mineral colorings. Given that there were no synthetic coloring in 1531, the image is inexplicable. Nor does the tilma have any specific priming. American paint experts were amazed when they found out that the picture does not have the usual strokes of the brush. It is also noted that the image changes in color slightly according to the angle of viewing, a phenomenon that is known by the word iridescence, a technique that cannot be reproduced by human hands. As early as the 18th century, scientists showed that it is impossible to paint an image of such fine detail on a fabric of that texture. In an experiment in the 1780's, copies of the image were painted by leading artists on similar tilmas. They were then placed in various buildings at Tepeyac and subjected to the same climatic conditions as the Image itself. After seven years, their colors changed and deteriorated, the paint and gold work fell off, and the fibers disintegrated, while the Image is as fresh and lovely hundreds of years later in a new basilica where it remains an object of veneration. The only conclusion, so far, is that the image was stamped on the 12th of December, 1531, apparently miraculously. 

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Miracle of Guadalupe was officially recognized by the Vatican in 1745. A second sanctuary was declared a Basilica in 1904. A new Basilica was dedicated in October of 1976. Yearly, an estimated 10 million visit the Basilica in Mexico City making it the most popular Marian shrine in the world, and the most visited Catholic church in the world next to the Vatican. Altogether 24 popes have officially honored Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the eighteenth century, Pope Benedict XIV declared Our Lady of Guadalupe as Patroness of Mexico. When Pope John Paul II made his first pilgrimage to the Guadalupan shrine in 1979 he declared that Our Lady of Guadalupe was the 'first evangelizer of Latin America.' In 1999, during his third visit to the Basilica, Pope John Paul II declared the date of December the 12th as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Millions of the faithful gather on this feast day for processions, prayers, songs and dances to honor "La Reina de México" (the Queen of Mexico). 

What Does the Image Say to Us Today?

For many years people thought of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a "Mexican Madonna." Yet her message was never intended to be exclusively for the Mexican people. That is why Pope Pius XII called her the 'Queen of all the Americas," North America as well as Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Some have asked why a Mexican feast would be declared a feast for the entire Western Hemisphere. In moments of great historical crisis, Mary has appeared to usher in the healing, liberating, saving presence of her son:

He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has cast down the rulers from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty (Lk 1:51-53).

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is not a theology created by the affluent and powerful. It is a theology for the poor and oppressed who believe and hope in God's compassionate providence despite suffering. In 1541, just ten years after the apparitions, ten million Indians had converted to the Christian faith. Yet it is not enough that the hearts and minds of women and men be converted. The very structures that perpetuate such systems of injustice must enter a similar conversion process. Mount Tepeyac takes its place among God's saving events. It is the Mountain of the Beatitudes of the Americas, God's blessings bestowed on the poor, the meek, the lowly, the sorrowing, the peacemakers and persecuted of the new world. It is Mount Sinai and the Mountain of the Transfiguration where the glory of God's new law of love is manifested. It is the mountain from which the resurrected Lord commissioned the apostles to "go forth and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:16). 

Juan Diego remained as a kind of hermit at the Shrine on Tepeyac Hill, the temple constructed for Our Lady of Guadalupe. For the last 17 years of his life he reflected on the apparitions, and retold the story to countless visitors. He died on May 30, 1548, at the age of 74. This humble Indian peasant told the Blessed Virgin Mary: "I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf." He is a model of humility for us all. In July of 2002 Juan Diego was canonized (declared a Saint) in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Juan Diego received the mandate from Our Lady of Guadalupe to request a home for "all the inhabitants of these lands, and of all the other people in different lands who cry to me." In the Nahuatl language, to build a temple also means to build a nation, a race, a community. If we are truly to become a New World, we must not allow political, cultural or linguistic borders to separate us. 

As the Apostle of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego helped fulfill her wish to forge a new land based on respect for life and unity among all peoples. In this third Millennium of Christianity, in a world dominated by so many threats to human life and numerous wars, may the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe reach all who long and hope for compassion and justice for all peoples. 

Yo Soy mestiza. Y tu? Todos somos mestizos
I am mestiza. And you? We are all mestizos.

You can buy my tape of this talk or any other workshop tape by contacting: spirit@scrc.org

Reprinted by permission

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