Last Updated:Saturday - 12/11/2010
May 22, 2000
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mary called Aztecs to Jesus through Mexican apparition
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 on the American continent is a powerful example of how Mary precedes Christ. It is a wonderful story of how we encounter Jesus through Mary.
In his 1999 letter, Ecclesia in America (The Church in America), Pope John Paul wrote, "How can we fail to emphasize the role which belongs to the Virgin Mary in relation to the pilgrim Church in America journeying towards its encounter with the Lord?
"Indeed, the most Blessed Virgin is linked in a special way to the birth of the Church in the history of the peoples of America; through Mary they came to encounter the Lord" (no. 11).
In 1521 the Spaniards conquered Mexico under the leadership of Herman Cortez.
In Tenochtitlan (which became Mexico City), they encountered the Aztecs. The Aztecs were a highly developed and extremely religious people.
Their religious practice involved human sacrifices on the altars of their pyramids, offered mainly to two mighty gods: Quetzelcoatl, the feathered or stone serpent, and Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and of the sun.
The conquerors were appalled at this practice of human sacrifice in which the heart of the victim was ripped out of his chest, still beating, and passed through the lips of the stone carving of the gods.
Aztec pyramids and statues were levelled in an attempt to destroy this religion and to expel from the land the demons believed responsible for these practices. With stones taken from the pyramids, the first Catholic churches were built in a gesture of consecrating the land to Christ.
The Aztecs did not accept Christianity easily. There were many revolts and uprisings. The number of conversions was minimal and the work of the missionaries was most discouraging.
In this context the newly-appointed bishop, Juan Zumarraga, appealed for help from heaven.
In 1531, his prayer was answered. On Dec. 9, Our Blessed Mother would appear for the first time to a recent convert, Juan Diego, on Tepeyac Hill. She asked that a temple be built on Tepeyac, where she would hear the weeping and sorrow of all those who had confidence in her.
She promised to remedy and alleviate all the sufferings and misfortunes of the people. She asked that Juan Diego take this message to the bishop.
After returning to see the bishop several times, Juan Diego was asked to bring proof the message was authentic. After hearing the request, Mary instructed Juan Diego to climb to the top of Tepeyac Hill and there he would find a garden of roses. He was to pick them and place them in his tilma (cloak) and bring them to the bishop.
As roses do not bloom on the arid hill in December, they would be the sign asked for by the bishop. Furthermore these were Castillian roses, only found in Castille, the Spanish province that the bishop was from.
When Juan Diego opened his tilma in the presence of the bishop and 22 witnesses, the roses fell to the floor and at the same time, the image of Our Lady appeared on the tilma.
The bishop fell to his knees, begging forgiveness for he had not believed. He took the tilma into his possession and within two weeks, the first humble temple was erected on Tepeyac.
Word of the apparitions spread and people flocked to see the image of Our Lady. Because the image is full of Aztec symbolism, upon seeing it, the Aztecs grasped that this was truly the mother of God.
The four-petalled "flower" found on the womb of the woman signified that she came pregnant with the one true God. The cross on her broche was a sign that they were to embrace the new religion of their conquerors.
Her mantle is coloured jade. For the Aztecs, this meant that she is clothed with divinity and comes from God.
The whole image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is full of rich symbolism. Everything in the image spoke to the Aztecs of conversion to Christ. This woman was in fact bringing Christ to them.
In the next 10 years, millions of Aztecs converted to Christianity. The missionaries, once discouraged, were swamped with hundreds of baptisms every day.
The tilma itself is made from the fibres of the maguey plant and does not last more than 25 to 40 years. Yet after 469 years, the original tilma can still be found in perfect condition in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac. It is the second most visited shrine in the world, after St. Peter's in Rome.
Scientific studies have determined that the image is not painted. The substance used to make the image cannot be identified by science.
Because Our Lady comes carrying the Christ child in her womb, her image has become associated with the pro-life movement.
Within a few years of the apparitions, all human sacrifice ceased in Mexico. Today many healings and conversions are still experienced by those in the presence of the image.
Our Lady came to a conquered and destroyed people as a mother and gently guided them to the truth. Without condemning them, she introduced Christ to them and promised to be present on this continent forever.
Indeed, Our Lady was the first evangelizer of the Americas. In honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe, mother and evangelizer of America, the pope asked that her feast be celebrated across the continent on Dec. 12 (The Church in America, 11).
If we continue to have confidence in her, Our Lady of Guadalupe will help us rediscover the wonders of Christ and of his Church as we commit ourselves to the new evangelization.
(Third in a series)
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