By Monsignor Michael Flannery
JACKSON – The actual apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe took place on the mountain of Tepeyac. There was a temple to the goddess virgin, Tonantzin, who was the mother of the gods. She was also known as the woman clothed with serpents. In the Aztec mind, the serpent stood for wisdom and perfection. It stood for death and resurrection as the snake cast its skin off every year.
Juan Diego was a 56-year-old convert to Christianity. It was Dec. 9, 1531. He was on his way to Mass at Tlatelolco by way of Tepeyac, when he heard beautiful music. He was immediately attracted to it. Music after all was the way to communicate with the gods. Then he heard a gentle voice calling his name. Before him stood a very beautiful lady. She radiated like the sun. She asked him where he was going? He responded that he was going to attend Mass. She, then, introduced herself as the mother of the true God who made the heaven and the earth. She instructed him to go to the bishop in Mexico City and to tell him to build for her a temple at Tepeyac. Juan responded immediately to say that her wish would be fulfilled, and he would go immediately. Upon arriving at the home of the bishop, he had to wait a long time before seeing him. He recounted for the bishop what he had seen and heard and the command of the Lady who called herself the Mother of God to build a temple for her. The bishop listened attentively to him and had him repeat the story again. The bishop then asked Juan Diego to return on another day to hear him again. Juan felt he had failed in his task to convince the bishop to build a temple to Our Lady.
Sadly, Juan returned to where he had seen the apparition at Tepeyac, and the apparition was before him again. He told Mother of God that he had failed in his task. Juan explained to Our Lady that he was not the one for the task as he was just a lowly unlettered man and was not one to be listened to. Our Lady should find someone more prominent for the task.
Our Lady reminded him that she could send many people to fulfill the task and that she had chosen Juan Diego and she still had confidence in him to fulfill the task she had given him. She asked Juan to return the following morning and Juan promised that he would return the next day and do as she commanded and then added that the bishop would probably not believe him.
On Dec. 10, Juan Diego went again to the residence of the bishop. The bishop questioned him at length about what he had seen, where he had seen it and what the message of the Lady was. Juan Diego answered all questions put to him. However, the bishop did not believe him and said that he needed some sign before he would believe. As Juan Diego was leaving bishop’s residence, the bishop asked two members of his household to follow Juan Diego and see what he was up to and to report back to the bishop. The two individuals followed Juan Diego back to Tepeyac but, they lost track of Juan Diego. Meanwhile, Juan was reporting back to Our Lady the details of his encounter with the bishop and how he was demanding a sign before he would believe Juan Diego. Our Lady responded that Juan Diego was to return tomorrow and that she would give him a sign to bring.
Upon his arrival at home, Juan Diego found that his uncle was gravely ill and needed the attention of a medic. On Dec. 11, Juan went in search of a doctor to assist his dying uncle Bernardino. Juan was not successful in getting a doctor, although he spent the whole day in search of a medic. On Dec 12, Juan Diego could see that his uncle was declining rapidly so he decided to look for a priest to give his uncle the last rites. In order to get the priest, he would have to pass by Tepeyac. He decided that he would go the other side of the mountain to avoid seeing Our Lady. While making his way along the other side of the mountain, there was Our Lady before him. She asked him what was going on and he explained that his uncle was about to die. He asked forgiveness for not fulfilling the task the day before. Our Lady told him not to worry about his uncle. She would take care of him. In the meantime, he was to go to the bishop and bring the sign that the bishop had requested.
She then instructed Juan Diego to go to the top of the mountain and there he would find roses. Juan reminded Our Lady it was not the season for roses to grow in December. Our Lady told him to do as he was asked. Juan Diego climbed the mountain and there before him were these beautiful roses. He picked the roses and brought them to Our Lady. Our Lady arranged the roses in his poncho. The poncho was made that it could fold up in the front and strings attached which could be tied to the shoulders. After Our Lady arranged the roses, she sent Juan Diego on his mission to go to the home of the bishop and present him with the roses. She instructed him that he was not to allow anyone else to see the roses except the bishop. Juan was also to tell the bishop that he was to fulfill what was being asked of him and to build a temple in Tepeyac in honor of Our Lady. The roses had a beautiful aroma.
The servants of the bishop were slow to tell the bishop that Juan Diego had come back. Juan was persistent. The servants wanted to examine the roses. Juan refused and said only the bishop was to see the sign. Eventually, Juan was brought into the bishop’s office. On entering, Juan reverenced the bishop and told him that he had brought the sign he had requested. With that, he released the strings on his poncho and the roses dropped to the ground. At that same moment, the impression of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted on his poncho.
The poncho of Juan Diego was made from the maguey plant. The poncho is also called a tilma. Its normal life span is 25 years. However, the tilma of Juan Diego has survived nearly 500 years. The original can be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is still in good condition and is now encased in glass.
By Monsignor Michael Flannery