The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is celebrated on December 12. Guadalupe is the pulse and heart of the Mexican people, a profound reality that has accompanied its Christian and social history from its beginnings to today. It is the DNA of the social, cultural and religious identity of the nation.
On his way to the Franciscan convent in Santiago, Mexico City, Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego in Tepeyac, in 1531. Our Lady ordered him to climb up the hill and gather the flowers that were on top of the hill. It was not the time for flowers to grow especially in December, when it is cold and dry.
Nevertheless, Juan found the flowers. Upon returning, the “heavenly Lady” took the flowers, put them back in his tilma (cloak made of cactus fibre) and said, “My little child, these flowers are the sign that you will take to the bishop. You will tell him to see in them my desire, and to fulfil my desire. You are my messenger, and I ask you with rigor that only in the presence of the bishop will you extend your tilma, and show him what you carry. You will tell him that I sent you up to the top of the hill to cut flowers, and everything you saw and admired … so that he can build my temple that I have asked for.”
The Virgin asked that this new temple be a house of welcome, consolation, and reconciliation for all. It is where she leads everyone “in the crossing of her arms,” as she told Juan Diego. It is where she wipes away the tears of those who feel burdened. “Why are you afraid? What is troubling you? Do you not have me here and that I am your Mother?”
Guadalupe is a fundamental proof for the bishop of the authenticity of the message because it was the Marian devotion that all the Spanish conquerors had lived since their childhood. The devotion that fed the friars whose mother convent, from where they had departed for those lands, was not far from the famous monastery of Guadalupe in Spain. It was like saying that the message came from Santa Maria and not from the absurd imagination of a dreaming Indian.
This was the name that Our Lady chose in the “new world” to reconcile two cultures and two peoples. Her mestizo face was a clear invitation to accept this reconciliation in the hearts of all. To carry out the miracle, God chose as his messenger-missionary the Indian Juan Diego Cuauthlatoatzin. He was the messenger of Santa Maria to the bishop of Mexico who had requested “proof” of the authenticity of the message.
The proof that the Virgin gave to the bishop were the roses collected by Juan Diego on that hill in his tilma. It is where the mestizo image of Mary was imprinted the moment the Indian extended it to the Franciscan bishop. In the “transformed tilma of Juan Diego”, the Indians were able to read the meaning of that event – it was the birth of a new Christian history.
The numerous testimonies of ancient history and the many recent historical investigations show that the Guadalupe’s miracle was the gracious response to a humanly dead-end situation, the relationship between the Indians and the newcomers.
The Indian Juan Diego was the hook between the old Mexican non-Christian world and the missionary proposal of the Spanish friars. The result was the birth of a new Christianised people.
These two worlds which had been unknown to each other and were even enemies, began to recognise themselves in the appearance of Mary, the image of the Church. They were announced through the newly-converted Indian, Juan Diego, a humble ambassador of Mary, and were welcomed by all as such.
There is a fresco from the early 17th century in the Franciscan convent of Ozumba (state of Mexico) that represents the beginnings of Christian history in Mexico and the American continent: “the arrival of the twelve Franciscan missionaries” to Tenochtitlan in 1524; the three teenage Tlaxcalan proto-martyrs of the continent; the apparitions of Santa Maria of Guadalupe; and the Indian Juan Diego with the aureole of sainthood. The painting clearly shows the unity and continuity of this history and the moments that have constituted it. The image of Mary before which the Indian Juan Diego is kneeling is the link that unites the two worlds represented in the fresco.
Mexican Christian tradition has understood it this way. It is the aspect that Saint John Paul II, in his second visit to Mexico in May 1990, emphasised in proposing the Indian Juan Diego as a true apostle of his people and “messenger” of Santa Maria of Guadalupe. It was reaffirmed with even greater force in his canonisation in the same house of Mary of Guadalupe at Tepeyac, on July 31, 2002.
St. John Paul II in Tepeyac, proclaimed the Virgin of Guadalupe once again patroness of the American continent and the Philippines. The beatification and later canonisation of Juan Diego reaffirmed with clear evidence the meaning of the Guadalupe event and of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin as the humble missionary chosen by God to be ambassador of that transforming event. (Fidel González)