Our Lady of Guadalupe, depicted in this mosaic, appeared four times in 1531 to Juan Diego on a hill outside of Mexico City.
EDMONTON – Almost 500 years ago, atop a hill in Mexico's Tepeyac desert, the Virgin Mary appeared to the simple peasant Juan Diego. She instructed him to build a church on the spot where they stood.
When a local bishop wanted proof of his vision, Diego returned to the hill and Mary appeared again. The lady told him to "Bring the roses behind you." He cut the roses from a nearby rosebush, and returned to the bishop, saying he had proof. When he opened his cloak, as well as the roses, there was an image of Mary imprinted on the fabric.
The apparitions had a decisive effect on evangelization throughout the Americas. Inspired by the message of divine love, nine million aboriginal people were baptized from the time of the apparitions until Diego's death in 1548.
Now, almost five centuries later, Catholics are again being called, like St. Juan Diego, to be heralds of a new evangelization.
The Knights of Columbus has embarked on a pilgrimage with Our Lady of Guadalupe, bringing her image from council to council, from parish to parish.
Through the Knights' continent-wide endeavour, three Our Lady of Guadalupe icons are available for veneration in Alberta. The Knights hope that by calling upon Mary's intercession and reaffirming Catholic dedication to her in Alberta that this may contribute to a culture of faith, love and life.
"The Knights of Columbus have undertaken an enterprise to foster greater devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the Americas," said Gregory Amerongen, a district deputy with the Knights.
"We face a somewhat similar situation as they did in Mexico in the 1500s when there was widespread human sacrifice and unbelief."
After the Marian apparitions in 1531, the Aztecs religion collapsed, human sacrifice ceased and there was widespread conversion to Catholicism.
Amerongen and other knights throughout Alberta are hopeful that devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe will have astounding effects here too.
The Guadalupe message has enduring relevance, he said. "We face the same problem today in western civilization through abortion, unofficial euthanasia, religious indifference and so forth."
The Knights have commenced the Marian Prayer Program, which includes prayers and Mass readings.
All of the icons have received a papal blessing, been touched by the original miraculous tilma in Mexico City, and have been sealed with soil from Mexico's Tepeyac Hill, where Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego.
"The tilma is made from material fibres that ordinarily would have decayed after 20 or 30 years. This tilma is still intact. Without being an expert, I would surmise that it is a miracle to have that kind of preservation," said Amerongen.
State Church Director Lou Normand said the icons have been given to every state deputy and all of them have been asked to promote a devotion to Our Lady for the next two years.
"We're working with the different district deputies and councils to encourage them to have devotions in their parishes," said Normand.
A few councils in Alberta, including within the Edmonton Archdiocese, have already hosted devotions. A prayer service was held recently at St. Andrew's Parish. The three icons are now in Vegreville, St. Albert and Calgary.
"Holy Trinity Council, which includes St. Agnes Parish and St. Anthony Parish, had a procession with Our Lady's icon from one church to the other. I've never seen that done before, so that was pretty special," said Normand.
Monsignor Malone Council 13312 will display the icon on the altar during the day and at St. Joseph's Basilica Masses on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. People are invited to take part in silent reflection, the rosary and other prayers.
"People want to know where it will be displayed next or if it is coming to their parish," said Amerongen. "They should be in contact with the grand knight of their respective parish."
Those parishes without a K of C council should contact Normand to make arrangements.
The last time the Knights launched a prayer program dedicated to Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe was in 2000, a year after Pope John Paul II referred to her as the Mother and Evangelizer of America.