SUNDAY, DECEMBER 12: Mexican Catholics will be both rejoicing in Mary’s name and embracing their heritage today as they observe the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe—but this observance is far larger than Mexico, or the Americas, or even the Catholic church. Pope John Paul II recognized this potential for spiritual unity and, throughout his reign, he encouraged global reflections on a miracle that was reported nearly 500 years ago.
A Miracle 500 Years Ago in Mexico
Here is the essential story recalled each year on December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Catholics teach that the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared in 1531 to a Mexican peasant named Juan Diego and addressed him as “my son.” This was a turbulent time of conquest by Spanish forces—both by military and religious leaders. In the face of an overwhelming Spanish-Catholic campaign for conversion, Mexicans were hesitant to let go of their indigenous heritage—and news of this miraculous appearance assured thousands that this Mother of God was the same entity as the Aztec mother-goddess. Tradition holds that Mary had used the poor peasant’s native language to tell him that she was the Lady of Guadalupe and that he should tell this to the archbishop. The peasant was unsuccessful in convincing the powerful clergyman of this miracle, so Juan Diego returned to the spot where he had seen the woman. The woman appeared again, and this time, she gave the peasant flowers—even though it was winter. Plus, she emblazoned her image on his cloak. The peasant returned to the archbishop, and a basilica was constructed in her honor—just as she had requested.(Wikipedia has further details.)
What Are the Global Connections with Guadalupe?
Best-selling author and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll describes this dramatic expansion of cultural connections in a current commentary for the Globe’s website. His column is headlined, “Our Lady Spoke the Peasant’s Language.” That celebrated moment of divine connection affirmed the human rights and the spiritual worth of all the world’s poor and oppressed, Carroll argues in his column. “The Virgin of Guadalupe may be the most venerated figure in the world,” he writes, then adds, “Our Lady of Guadalupe is thus a patroness of pluralistic respect.”
How People Will Mark the Feast of Guadalupe
This weekend, thousands of men, women and children will gather in Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to remember this remarkable event. (Find out more at the official site for the Lady’s sanctuary in Guadalupe.) This basilica has become the most visited Catholic shrine in the world, not just for Latino Catholics, but for all Catholics.
Juan Diego’s cloak rests at the basilica, according to tradition. The condition of the cloak is regarded as yet another miracle. Scientists are mystified by the image on the cloak and by its remarkably sturdy condition, church leaders say. The garment remains in good condition, despite age, a chemical spill and even a bomb over the years.
This year, a full-scale replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been on a nine-month tour, and it will end on Dec. 12 at Westminster Cathedral. (Read more in the Independent Catholic News.) This project was commissioned by Cardinal Norbeto Rivera Carrera and distributed to any country that welcomed it. The cardinal says he hopes to fullfill John Paul II’s prediction that “the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be the centre from which the light of the gospel of Christ will illuminate the entire world by means of the miraculous image of His mother.”