In 1999, St. John Paul II made the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe a Feast day of the Church in all America. Today, we reflect on this rich tradition and how it invites us to pray and act together.
On three occasions in December of 1531, Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Appearing on the Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City as a beautiful young indigenous woman, Our Lady spoke to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl tongue asking him to deliver a message to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga. Mary told Juan Diego that she wanted a church built on the spot where she appeared so that people would have a place where she could show them her Son and where they could experience her compassion and help.
At first, the Bishop did not believe Juan Diego and demanded a sign. Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac Hill and implored the Virgin Mary to provide such a sign. Mary instructed him to gather the roses from the hillside, which is in itself surprising, since blooming roses are rare in December. Juan Diego filled his cloak, or tilma, with the roses, and returned with them to the Archbishop. Upon opening his tilma, the fresh roses fell to the ground, miraculously revealing an imprint of Our Lady’s image. A church was built on the site, and Juan Diego lived out his days nearby, helping others, praying, and doing penance.
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico at a pivotal time when the Spanish and indigenous groups, particularly the Aztecs, were in continual conflict. From her physical representation as a mestizo woman speaking Nahuatl, Our Lady of Guadalupe became an instrument of peace and unification. The image of Our Lady includes colors, patterns, and symbols that hold special significance for the indigenous community, conveying a message of compassion and love.
Now more than 500 years later, people continue to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for her intercession to protect and guide them. St. Juan Diego’s tilma is visited by numerous people every day at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Mary, as the mother of God, also makes her mother to all God’s people.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has become an eminent image throughout Latin America and even North America and is often seen as an advocate for migrants and vulnerable populations across the Americas. The Catholic faithful often turn to her to ask for safekeeping as they embark on their long migration journey.
What can you do on December 12th?
- PRAY: Attend Mass to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe. On her feast day, remember to pray for migrants, refugees and immigrants. Use this Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe for Justice.
- REFLECT: Learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe and share her message of Christ’s love for migrants and vulnerable people with your community.
- ADVOCATE: Inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message of unification and her special significance to young people, voice your support for young people in our communities who are facing an uncertain future because of the recent end the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA youth and the larger Dreamer community need legislative protection from Congress to ensure that they are not deported from the only home they have ever known and separated from their families. Send a message to your members of Congress urging passage of the DREAM Act quickly so as not to uproot the lives of so many young people who’ve made enormous contributions to our communities and our economy.
Excerpted with permission from USCCB Justice for Immigrants handout on Our Lady of Guadalupe: Peacebuilder and Unifier.