I invite the reader to contemplate the first great sign given by God to the American continent when it began to open itself to the evangelizing action of the Church: the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Gaudium Press, English Edition
Newsdesk (15/01/2022 4:00 PM, Gaudium Press) Faith, history, and science itself will help us to penetrate the rich meanings of this sign of the times, through which the Blessed Virgin Mary reveals to us marvelous and wonderful and hitherto unknown aspects of her maternal mercy.
The arrival of the Spanish in Mexico
On the New Continent, overseas, idolatry reigned among the Amerindians, and not just any idolatry! The exacerbation of hatred, vengeance, and rivalry spread in their minds and manifested itself in totems and deities hungry for human sacrifices. Added to this were moral debauchery, theft, non-stop warfare, and so many other tendencies.
A picture painted with such shades was what the Spaniards found when, on April 22, 1519, they landed in the territory of the Mexica or Aztec Empire, whose capital was the imposing city of Mexihco-Tenochtitlán, at the time with “about two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants.
The landing of the white men on the Mexican coast – dressed in black on that occasion because it was Good Friday – was immediately associated with the fulfillment of certain prophecies bequeathed by the natives’ ancestors, which announced the return of Quetzalcóatl – a god who dressed in black and did not accept the use of human flesh – who, in ancient times, had left the sea, promising to return to take over the kingdom.
For this reason, the explorers were received as true ambassadors of that deity, more out of fear than reverence.
A new stage of history opens
After some time, however, unforeseen circumstances reversed the situation… Overnight, the Aztecs turned hostile, forcing the Spanish to retreat to the allied indigenous cities.
At that juncture, an epidemic of smallpox mercilessly decimated the population, sparing only a certain minority who remained more dead than alive. The Spaniards took advantage of the occasion to surround the immense capital, helped by friendly tribes, and managed to take the city, ending the history of the empire and consolidating the new stage that was opening: the union of the European with the Native American.
But they were not alone… the Mother of God herself had taken on this task! And Her first visible intervention, recognized by the Church, was precisely the apparition of Guadalupe.
A resplendent Maiden
Cuauhtlatoatzin – ‘Eagle that speaks’, in the Nahuatl language – was the name of an indigenous man born in 1474 in the city of Cuauhtitlán, an ally of the Spanish in the struggle against the Aztecs and located twenty kilometers from the capital.
He had married a native girl named Malintzin, and in 1524, with Holy Baptism, received the Christian name of Juan Diego, and she, Maria Lucia. He was fifty-seven years old and already a widower when the great event of his life occurred at dawn on Saturday, December 9, 1531.
He was hurrying to Mexico City to learn Catholic doctrine and attend Holy Mass, when, as he passed the Tepeyac hill, he heard beautiful birdsong, as a prelude to a ravishing voice calling him tenderly: “Juanito, Juan Dieguito!” Far from being afraid and seeking to hide, he felt his innocent heart overflow with joy and climbed to the top of the hill in search of the source of that voice.
According to Nican Mopohua, he came upon a Maiden resplendent like the sun, standing on rocks glittering like precious jewels. The earth had the colors of a rainbow, and the vegetation shone in shades of jade, gold and turquoise. It was the Virgin Mother of God who called her humble servant to herself, to charge him with the mission of communicating to the Bishop of Mexico her desire that a “little holy house” be built on that site, for there she wished to erect a pedestal to glorify her most beloved Son.
Fray Zumárraga demands a sign
Juan Diego went before Friar Juan de Zumárraga, to whom he explained everything that Our Lady had revealed to him. The prelate didn’t even pay him any attention that day.
Desolated, he returned to Tepeyac to manifest to the Heavenly Mother his inability to carry out the mission that She had entrusted to him. Nevertheless, the Blessed Virgin encouraged him to return to the Bishop’s presence and to present him again with the request from Heaven.
The next day, Sunday, Juan Diego once again transmitted the message to Fray Zumárraga. Zumárraga was impressed by the insistence, the coherence and the details of the account of the apparitions, but he was not convinced: he demanded a sign to confirm its authenticity. Mary’s envoy nodded without difficulty and asked him what he wanted. Somewhat insecure in face of the tranquility of the indigenous man, Zumárraga dismissed him summarily.
Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac and informed the Lady of the ecclesiastical authority’s demand. She answered him:
– Very well, my little son. You will return to the city tomorrow to take the requested sign to the bishop. I will be here waiting for you.
Two missions that complement each other
Upon entering the house, Juan Diego found his uncle Juan Bernardino barely alive, attacked by a sudden illness. All efforts to bring him back to health proved futile. At dawn on Tuesday, he left in search of a priest to administer the last Sacraments.
Two very different missions marked the trip: to gather the heavenly sign of a story that was beginning and to help a dying man in his last moments. From this point of view, Jean Bernardino could well personify a continent that was dying in the darkness of sin, without any human means of salvation, but which was being given, with the luminous help of the Blessed Virgin, a sign to save itself, with a view to a future marked by faith!
On his way to town, Juan Diego avoided passing the place where he had met Our Lady three times, fearful that he would not have enough time to perform the two tasks. He took a shortcut, determined not to go up to Tepeyac until the afternoon. Disturbed by the pain and the drama, he didn’t even think about asking Her for a miracle…
She, however, knowing the deviations of human life, appeared to him on the way, asking where he was going. Juan Diego fell to his knees, greeted Her affectionately and explained to Her the bitter situation that was preventing him from fulfilling the heavenly plan, to which the kind Lady replied:
– Listen and engrave it in your heart, O least of My children: let nothing frighten or afflict you; let not your heart be troubled; fear not this nor any other infirmity or distress. Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not resting happily in my arms? Do you have need of anything else? Don’t worry about your uncle’s illness, he will not die. Don’t doubt that he is already cured.
Miracles Rich in Meaning
At that moment – as it later became known – She also appeared to his uncle and healed him. She then told Juan Diego to go and pick some flowers that he would find there, and to bring them before her. He was amazed to see a great variety of perfumed roses from Castile, out of season; he hurried to pick them, wrapped them in his rustic tilma and brought them to Our Lady. She placed them neatly on the mantle of the good Indian, who then left to give them to the bishop.
After a long wait, he was finally received by Friar Zumárraga. He was then able to tell him what had happened and give him the sign sent by Mary. He opened the tilma, from which roses fell in profusion, and a more stupendous miracle came to light: invisible hands had stamped on it the image of the Blessed Virgin, just as she had presented herself that day in Tepeyac and can be venerated today in the Basilica of Guadalupe.
Thus, two complementary miracles were produced, very rich in meaning. In that historical context, the restoration of the health of the venerable old man represented the healing of humanity and a radical change in the history of the continent. The image miraculously stamped on the tilma indicated that Mary had entered fully, in a mystical way, in the evangelization of the Americas, meriting to be proclaimed by the Popes, as was done in the 20th century, Empress and Patroness of this New Continent.
What might have been Juan Diego’s thoughts during the last years of his life, as he retired to a hermitage on top of Tepeyac? Perhaps he spent them in contemplating the wonders of grace that Mary had promised to pour out on our continent, which was then being born to the Faith, glimpsing the splendorous and Marian future that was to come, and towards which he never ceased to gaze!
Text extracted, with adaptations, from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel n. 177. February 2018. By Deacon Sebastián Correa Velásquez, EP