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Why do we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe?

In 1531, the Blessed Mother appeared four times to St. Juan Diego asking for a church to be built in her honor. The last time she appeared to St. Juan, on December 12th, 1531, she arranged roses in his tilma, which he then took to the bishop. When he opened his cloak, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously present on the tilma.

We therefore celebrate the feast day of Our Lady under the title of Guadalupe on December 12th. It is preceded on December 9th by the feast of St. Juan Diego, who was canonized in 2002 by Pope St. John Paul II.


What is the story behind Our Lady of Guadalupe?

On December 9, 1531, barely 10 years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, Our Lady appeared to a native peasant named Juan Diego while he was crossing Tepeyac Hill, outside what is today Mexico City. After telling Juan that she was the “mother of the true God,” she told him that she wanted a church to be built there in her honor. Juan Diego then approached the bishop of the new diocese of Mexico, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, asking for a church to be built. Without any proof, the bishop did not believe him. The Blessed Virgin then appeared again to Juan Diego, asking him to approach the bishop again. St. Juan obeyed her, and this time, the bishop requested a miraculous sign that would prove the story. When Our Lady appeared a third time to St. Juan on December 10, she said that she would provide a miracle the next day. However, on December 11, Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill, and he took care of him instead of meeting the Blessed Virgin. When his uncle, Juan Bernardino, appeared to be in his final hours on the early morning of December 12, St. Juan left the house to find a priest. Believing that he could avoid seeing the Blessed Virgin, he took another route. However, not to be outsmarted, she still appeared to him. The Blessed Virgin asked where he was going, and he explained that his uncle was ill. In response to Juan’s lack of understanding of her great love for him, the Blessed Virgin asked him, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?" She then told him that his uncle had, in fact, recovered. Then Our Lady asked Juan to collect some flowers from Tepeyac Hill, which is usually barren. He found Castilian roses, which are not native to Mexico, much less bloom in central Mexico in December. The Blessed Mother arranged the roses in Juan Diego’s tilma, before he proceeded to the bishop yet again. Upon opening his tilma before the bishop and other witnesses, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was revealed as the roses fell to the ground. The following day, St. Juan returned to his uncle and found him completed recovered, as the Virgin had said. Juan Bernadino reported that Mary had appeared to him and requested to be known under the title of “Guadalupe.” Within seven years of this apparition, in which Our Lady manifested herself to the native peoples of Mexico as a sign of her maternal care, nine million accepted the Catholic faith. Remarkably, this amounts to an average of over 3000 people a day, every day for the next seven years. This is the number who were converted on Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2:41.

“Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?” – Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego

Why is the Virgin Mary called Guadalupe?

When she appeared to St. Juan Diego’s uncle, he understood her to say “Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe.” While in Spain there was a shrine called Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extramadura, it seems unlikely that the Virgin called herself by this Spanish title. Although well known, especially to sailors––Columbus visited it both before and after his voyage of discovery, neither Juan nor his uncle spoke Spanish, and would have repeated the title to the bishop with difficulty. It is more likely she spoke to both in their native Náhuatl, calling herself by something understandable to them, but misunderstood by the Spanish. One possibility is that she said that she was “Coatlaxopeuh” (the one who crushes the serpent), which suggests “Guadalupe” (also known as the “dark virgin” of Spain). In addition to the hints of the Spanish virgin, this name holds and two-fold reference, understandable and appealing to Spaniards and Mexicans. The first is to Genesis 3:15, in which God says to Satan, appearing under the form of a serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In this text, known as the protoevangelium (first gospel), is both the promise of a Redeemer to crush the Serpent, as well as the mysterious participation of the “Woman” in the fulfillment of that promise. The second reference is to Cuetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, a predominate deity in the Aztec pantheon. The Aztec religion had many gods, some of whom demanded human sacrifice. Cuetzalcoatl was a god of creation, of man, of knowledge and of wisdom, yet a parody of the true God nonetheless. By taking this name the Blessed Virgin announced that she and her Son, the True God, would defeat the feathered serpent and the religious system that held sway over the people of Mexico.

Why is Our Lady of Guadalupe so important?

At the time of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation was resulting in millions of people in Europe leaving the Church. During this massive departure in the Old World, the image and story of Our Lady of Guadalupe helped to convert millions in the New World. To this day, Our Lady of Guadalupe is incredibly significant to the Mexican people. She is the patron of Mexico and truly interwoven into Mexican culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe is also revered throughout the Catholic world. In fact, the apparition site of Our Lady of Guadalupe has become the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination on earth.

“I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. I will hear their weeping and their sorrows … their necessities and misfortunes.” – Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego