Flowers fall, faith blossoms on a hill
Appearing as a brown-skinned Aztec tribal woman, on December 9, 1531, to Juan Diego on the Tepeyac Hill, 700 kms away from Mexico City, Mother Mary wanted to proclaim to the whole world, as Pope Francis said inside the Guadalupe shrine on February 13, 2016: “no one could be left out in the building of that other shrine: the shrine of life”.
By Joe Palathunkal
What happened in 1531 AD in a remote corner of North America to a simple indigenous boy Juan Diego, may not sound credible today in 2018, but the indigenous oral history, written scientifically, cannot be dismissed as a myth or fiction.
If we cannot believe today, this peasant boy roaming on Mexico’s Tepeyac Hill at Guadalupe also could not believe what he had been witnessing right in front of him with his physical eyes and the eyes of his soul, which the ‘mother of the very true deity’ opened for a great purpose.
Appearing as a brown-skinned Aztec tribal woman, on December 9, 1531, to Juan Diego on the Tepeyac Hill, 700 kms away from Mexico City, Mother Mary wanted to proclaim to the whole world, as Pope Francis said inside Guadalupe shrine on February 13, 2016: “no one could be left out in the building of that other shrine: the shrine of life”.
Speaking to the indigenous boy in his own Nahuatl language, she told him that his own heritage was as important as the Spanish one that the migrants brought to Mexico, and that language was never a barrier to communicate the redeeming love of her son whom she gave birth in Bethlehem.
But Juan Diego’s most difficult job was to convince the local prelate Archbishop Zumarrago who told the boy to go to the lady and ask for a credible sign which the little boy did faithfully. The brown-skinned indigenous Mary again appeared to him and told him to collect roses from the hill which was almost impossible as it was winter.
To his surprise, Diego found beautiful Castilian roses all over the hill and the lady helped him to arrange the flowers inside his tilma or cloak, which he took to the bishop on December 12, 1531. As he opened the cloak in front of the prelate, the flowers fell and a beautiful image of Mother Mary appeared on his tilma. The bishop was now more than convinced and kept the tilma in his own private chapel, and Mother Mary’s command to Juan Diego to build a church on the Tepeyac Hill became serious mission for the archbishop.
Designed by architect José Luis Benlliure and consecrated on October 12, 1976, the present basilica of Gaudalupe on the Tepeyac Hill has a capacity for 10,000 people and is one of the largest Marian shrines of the world. Visited by a record 12 million pilgrims annually, Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site and the third most visited sacred site in the world.
This magnificent basilica, visited by two popes—Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, heralds to the world that if we follow the words of Mother Mary like Juan Diego, we will find beautiful roses even in the winter of our life, even in the most unlikely circumstances and she can blossom faith even at the most forsaken situations.
In our trying times, Our Mother is there with these words which she tells a worried Juan Diego: “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” The only condition is that we must be sensitive to the most sensitive mother in human history, like Juan Diego who became ‘the confidant of the sweet Lady of Tepeyac’ as Pope John Paul II said.
The image imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma, kept in the basilica, is the focus of devotion and attention for everyone who comes here. This tribal boy, canonized on July 31, 2002, by Pope John Paul II, is the most visible symbol of unity in the continent of North America.
He became a veritable confluence of two streams of history: the Spanish one and the indigenous one; and Mexico with an 83 percent of Catholics among its 107 million people, St. Juan Diego is indeed a superstar whose feast falls on December 9.
(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)