December 12, 2019 has come and gone, but this was not an ordinary day.
This was our annual day of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. It began two days before with prayers, then a serenade (Las Mañanitas) on December 12th in the early morning before the sun came up. This was followed by a reception with tamales, cookies and champurrado, an Aztec drink. Later in the evening, we celebrated the event with a Mass and Indian dancers (Matachines) and afterwards a dinner provided by the Gualalupanas, a group of men and women who are greatly devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
This event is celebrated all over the world by people who acknowledge the apparition of Mary, our Blessed Mother, in an image portrayed on a poncho or cloak belonging to Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant. His cloak was made out of a cactus fiber which was woven into several items including a cloak, which we call a Tilma.
I think everybody knows the story about the image and how Mary appeared to Juan Diego and how he took flowers (not native to Mexico) to the Bishop and how her image appeared where the flowers were inside the cloak.
Here’s the rest of the story…
The tilma or poncho where the image is portrayed is now and has been in a church in Mexico City. It was not protected by the elements for hundreds of years before it was placed in a frame but was still exposed to the air. Now almost five hundred years later, it has not deteriorated like other tilmas which last 20 years before they begin to disintegrate.
During all this time, not a single speck of dirt has lain in the image. Researchers have examined the image by scientific means including micro scoping devices and have found the following facts: The pigments of the colors are not from this earth; The colors are not imbedded in the tilma but rather float above the tilma, much like the Shroud of Turin in which the image of Jesus appears. The temperature of the tilma remains at a human temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Early in the 20th century, someone placed a bomb close to the tilma. When it exploded, everything around the tilma was severely damaged. A large bronze cross close to the tilma was folded in half. However, the tilma did not receive a scratch.
When the apparition appeared to Juan Diego, The Aztecs had already been conquered at that time but they still maintained their religion. They did not have a written language but communicated rather by images that symbolized different things. So it is with the apparition. For example, the language spoken by the Indians was Nahuatl which had to be translated by other Spanish speaking Indians. The name given by the Indian peasant to the Bishop was the Lady of Coatlaxopeuh, an Indian deity which was supposedly worshiped by the Indians. The Spanish pronounced it Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The image itself has a lot of symbolism which was recognized by the Indians. The stars on the tilma appear in the same way they appeared in the sky on December 12th almost five hundred years ago during the Winter solstice, and the constellations are easily recognizable. The color purple is a symbol of royalty. Because of the apparition and how the Aztecs understood the symbolism, they were more easily converted to Christianity.
To this day whole populations of Mexicans come to the Basilica from all over the country to express their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is said that when questioned about why they were there, they said “I am not a Catholic, but I am a Guadalupano”.
There have been many apparitions of the Virgin Mary throughout the world and people have gone on to claim the apparitions as their own. However, it is the same Mary, our Blessed Mother, appearing to those countries in their own culture to bring them back to the Father. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the only one which we have an actual apparition as a living icon and one whose miracles are still being discussed.
For Catholics everywhere, they understand that our devotion to Our lady is not worshiping but we do ask her to intercede for us when we have a need. For who else can we get much closer to God other than Mary, blessed mother of her son Jesus Christ.