(We thank Merciful Love at P.O. Box 24, Fresno, CA
93707 for their permission for our reprinting the following article
from their Divine Love, Issue No. 87, 4th
— Mary’s Touch By
Mail, Gresham, Oregon
OUR LADY OF
"EMPRESS OF THE AMERICAS"
AND "MOTHER OF MERCY"
can proudly—and humbly—say that America is the land of Our Lady.
And by America I do not mean simply the U.S.A. I mean ALL of
America—the Western Hemisphere. Every nook and corner of it has
been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and was so dedicated long before the
Bishops in 1846 dedicated the United States to her in her title of the
Immaculate Conception, and asked her to be our celestial Patroness.
In a very real sense they were only ratifying something that had already
taken place centuries earlier.
most important dedication of America to Our Lady took place in Mexico in
December, 1531. The event was all-embracing; and the deed was done
by no other than the Blessed Virgin herself. In her talks with Juan
Diego, she specifically claimed him and "all the people of these
lands and all who come to me" as her children, and asked that a
church be built there at Tepeyac, where she could console and help them
and hear their prayers and petitions. At that time there were no
national boundaries—it was just the New World. And Mexico is
almost exactly the mid-point of the twin continents, and the only capital
city then known in the Americas. Our Lady claimed all these lands
for herself. Mexico and Spanish writers and ecclesiastical
authorities from the beginning have always called her "Queen of The
Americas," and they called the Apparitions, "The American
Marvel" or "Miracle"—"Maravilla Americana."
Those who refer to Our Lady of Guadalupe as "The Mexican Virgin"
are in error. She is also "Empress of the Americas."
Lady first appeared at dawn on December 9, 1531, on the outskirts of
Mexico City, to Juan Diego, a middle-aged Aztec convert of several years.
He was on his way—a six mile walk, no less—to attend the Mass for the
Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which was then celebrated in the
Spanish Empire and some other countries on the 9th instead of
the 8th as at the present. When he was approaching the
causeway crossing the lake, at the foot of the high hill called Tepeyac,
he suddenly heard a great choir, as of thousands of birds
singing—unknown and unseen birds. He was enchanted and looked up
to the hilltop where the music seemed to come from and saw there a shining
cloud of brightness in that dusk before dawn, and started to climb up the
barren rocks towards it. Suddenly the heavenly music stopped, and
then through the silence he heard a lady's voice call him by name "Juan,
Juan Diegito" ("John, little John-Jimmie.") He
couldn't believe his ears and stopped in his tracks, but the voice called
as he climbed up, he saw her, standing in the luminous cloud or mist,
iridescent with rainbow hues. She identified herself immediately as
the "Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God, through Whose
favor we live, the Creator, Lord of Heaven and of the earth," and
asked him to go to the house of the Bishop of Mexico and tell him she
wanted a church built there, where "I may show and may make known
and give all my love, my mercy, and my help and my protection—for I am
in truth your merciful Mother—to you and to all the other people dear to
me who call upon me, who search for me, who confide in me."
Diego did as he was told and went immediately to the Bishop's house in the
center of the city, some four miles away. Naturally, the Bishop was
not too readily impressed with such an astonishing story, and told him to
come back again in a few days when he would have time to go into it all
thoroughly. Juan Diego sadly trudged back to Tepeyac with a
humiliating sense of failure. Who was he, a mere small farmer and
weaver of mats, to talk to the great Lord Bishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga?
the hilltop Our Lady was waiting for him and he told her the bad news:
the Bishop didn't believe him. Juan Diego asked her to send somebody
else—somebody important whom the Bishop would be likely to believe.
However, Our Lady smiled and said it was fitting for him to be her
messenger although she didn't lack others to send, and asked him to go
back again the next day—Sunday—and urge the Bishop to do as she asked.
So, after Mass at the Franciscan mission church of Santiago (St.
James) in Tlaltelolco, he went again to see Bishop Zumarraga and, this
time, by his pleading he seemed to impress the Bishop with his sincerity
at least and, finally, Bishop Zumarraga suggested that he ask the Lady for
a sign by which he might be absolutely sure she was the Blessed Virgin and
no other. Juan Diego asked him what sign he wanted, but the Bishop
merely shrugged his shoulders.
Sign From Heaven
Diego reported all this to his heavenly Visitor on his return to Tepeyac
that afternoon at sunset, and she seemed well pleased and promised him a
sign the next day, and urged him not to forget, and to meet her at the
usual time, before dawn. However, Juan Diego did forget, and did not
keep his appointment the next day. When he got home on Sunday night,
he found his old uncle, Juan Bernardino, very ill with a high
fever—identified as typhus—and he spent that night and all day Monday
and Monday night nursing the uncle who had been like a father to him.
Very early on the morning of the 12th, Tuesday, he set
out on the sad journey to bring a priest from Tlaltelolco for the last
rites. It was obvious to all that the good old man was dying.
Juan Diego was approaching Tepeyac—and it was nearly dawn—he suddenly
remembered that he had forgotten all about his appointment with the
Blessed Virgin the day before, and he thought if he continued on his usual
route between the hills, he would meet her and she would delay him, so he
took another path, along the eastern side of the hill, along the lake
shore. But Our Lady met him just the same, and asked him where he
was going, why he was taking this path? Juan Diego, in a state of
total confusion and embarrassment, explained his predicament and asked her
to let him get the priest for his uncle, and he'd be back the next day to
take the sign to the Bishop. Our Lady put him at ease and said he
was not to worry, that his uncle was not going to die; in fact, he was now
already perfectly well. So, believing her utterly, Juan Diego asked
her for the sign for the Bishop. She told him to climb up the hill
to the place where they had always met before, and pick the flowers he
would find blooming there.
knew that no flowers—or anything else except some briers and starved
cactus—ever grew on the barren rocks of Tepeyac, but he climbed up,
nonetheless. And on the hilltop to his vast surprise he found a
garden of roses such as he had never seen before—roses of Castile, not
yet grown in Mexico—and in the frosty time of December! He filled
his thin white cape, or serape, called a tilma, with the flowers
and took them back to her. She took the roses out of his tilma and,
like any other woman before or since, she rearranged them and put them
back; then she told him to carry them so that no one would see what he had
until he was in the Bishop's presence. And she cautioned him to tell
the Bishop everything that had happened before opening his cape to show
him the roses. Juan Diego took his leave and Our Lady thanked him
and promised to reward him for all he did for her.
waiting a long time at the Bishop's house, he was finally ushered into the
room where Bishop Zumarraga and some others were, and then he told the
story of that morning and opened his tilma. As the roses fell to the
floor, the Bishop and his companions with a started gasp fell to their
knees: on Juan Diego's tilma was a most beautiful painting, incredibly
more beautiful than any they had ever seen—the Portrait of Our Lady,
exactly as Juan Diego had described her on his earlier visits. The
Bishop had his sign: Our Lady's Portrait, of heavenly or miraculous
origin, and corresponding to the Woman of the Apocalypse—the Woman
clothed with the sun, standing on a new moon, and with the stars—not as
a crown, to be sure, ornamenting, her blue-green robe, accompanied by an
Angel at her feet.
ever a Bishop so honored? After long veneration, Bishop Zumarraga
took the Miraculous Portrait from Juan Diego and hung it over the
altar in his oratory until the next day, when it was transferred to his
cathedral church for all to see and venerate. The startling news
spread throughout the city with an impact as overwhelming as an
earthquake. Everyone wanted to see the miraculous gift from Heaven.
next day, also, the Bishop and many others, led by Juan Diego, who was the
Bishop's honored guest, went out to Tepeyac to see where Our Lady wanted
the church to be built. The building began at once; tradition says
that Juan Diego's fellow-villagers from Tolpetlac built it, and the little
house for him to live in, along side it, for he was to be its caretaker
Christmas, the little chapel was ready, and on the 26th a tremendous
procession of people escorted the Sacred Image to its first shrine.
Pilgrimages have continued ever since, even during eras of severe
persecution, and now every year some five million pilgrims and tourists
visit the shrine, a minor Basilica now, and privileged Lateran church.
Over a million are present on December 12th, the great Feast of
"Our Lady of Guadalupe"—the title she herself picked for this
apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe have a great significance for all of
us. First of all, she appeared on our continent and called herself
our own Mother. These apparitions were the first of the great,
universally-important visitations of the Blessed Virgin—Guadalupe,
Lourdes, La Salette and Fatima. In all these she has appeared at a
time of great crisis, with a special message, but since the Guadalupe
apparitions are the first in time, and her declarations of universal
motherhood are for all time, these are the foundation stone of the other
declared to Juan Diego that she was the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of
the True God. This doctrinal statement contradicted emphatically the
ideas of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation then turning all Europe
into two camps. She called Juan Diego her very dear son, and
proclaimed herself a loving mother to all who would come to her with their
problems and cares; in other words, substantiating the Church's
traditional teaching that Our Lord, from the Cross, in giving her to St.
John as his mother and appointing St. John as her son, was creating for
her a universal role as Mother of us all. This was being denied by
the Protestant Reformers: Mary was for them simply the historic
mother of Jesus and had no other role to play.
offered her intercession—as a mediatrix of graces—to all who should
ask for it. This, too, was of course denied by the Reformers, and
where "national churches" were being set up, taking over the
magnificent churches of the "Old Faith" as in England, the many
little German kingdoms and the Scandinavian countries, the images of the
Blessed Virgin, as well as those of the Saints, were being thrown out of
the churches and homes and were burned or hacked to pieces. But Our
Lady in 1531 firmly emphasized her intercessory role in "the
Communion of Saints."
of these statements of hers are important to emphasize again now, when
many Catholics seem concerned about "too great an emphasis on the
importance of Mary" in our devotional life. These doctrinal
points make her apparitions of 1531 of universal significance, and Bishop
Zumarraga, all the Spaniards in Mexico, and the Popes from that century to
the present time have so recognized spiritual truth.
is another important point: she did not ask Juan Diego to build the
church, or simply ask that a church be built in her honor. She sent
him to the Bishop, to the head of the Church in that land new to
Christianity. She was giving an order to the Catholic Church.
the Mexicans, who then had no written language, but made their historical
and literary records in a symbolic picture-writing, her Portrait had much
to say. Since she was standing in a nimbus of light, with rays
representing those of the sun, she was greater than the sun; she was
standing on the new moon, and therefore was greater than the moon; and her
robe, like the sky, was sown with stars. All these heavenly bodies
had long been worshipped, with a god for each, in their pagan pantheon.
The Lady was greater than these, and said she was the Mother of all.
Since an Angel was at her feet, she was greater than other heavenly
creatures. Yet she was no goddess, for her hands were clasped in
prayer. And at her throat was a golden brooch, a circle enclosing a
black cross—the Christian symbol on the Spanish banners, on the
Christian altars, and set up before their mission churches. Her
Portrait and its symbolic teaching, far more than the work of the score of
missionary priests and brothers, converted the largely pagan Mexico to the
Christian Faith. And its symbolism as picture-writing continues to
teach and convert the illiterate who come on pilgrimage with perhaps only
a smattering of catechism dimly remembered. She speaks for herself
to all who come to look at her image.
Portrait itself was 430 years old on December 21, 1961. When one
speaks of a miraculous portrait, meaning one created by a miracle, many
U.S. Catholics of this scientific age tend to think that perhaps Mexican
tradition and devotion are a little too flowery; after all, it was so long
ago, and fact can be overlaid by pious fiction in a few centuries, and
until they know more of the details they are hesitant to accept it as a
miracle. Quite all right. But what they should know is that
every religious, scientific test devised from early times to the present
results in the same explanation: a painting without a trace of brush
marks, (under microscopic study), mysteriously still existing and still
uniquely beautiful when it should have disintegrated centuries ago.
is on a coarse, thin linen-like cloth made of maguey cactus thread, which
only lasts from twenty to thirty years or so. Paintings a couple of
hundred years younger, in the old churches of Mexico, and on first-rate
canvas, are in very poor shape, sadly in need of restoration. No
artist, about to paint a masterpiece, (and it is a masterpiece), would
ever choose such an unsuitable "canvas" as that of the
Miraculous Portrait, especially one made of two strips of cloth with a
seam right down the middle of the paintable area. This cloth was not
prepared for pain by sizing or any other preparation to make it a
paintable surface. The hardest-headed artists and scientists frankly
write their analyses and report that they cannot figure it out.
historians and artists who balk when you say "miraculous
painting" are suddenly brought to silence when you ask: "Well,
who painted it, then?" For in Spain at that time the art of
painting was in a very primitive stage. The great Renaissance art
movement did not come to Spain until two generations later. And this
Painting is farther removed from the Mexican art
tradition—Maya-Toltec-Aztec, and artists in featherwork and weaving, but
in painting their work was crude hieroglyphic.
who "couldn't swallow" the miraculous explanation have devoted
lifetimes trying desperately to dig up a human painter of this great
marvel, but without any success. One might remark that if a human
artist of such genius had lived in Mexico in 1531, he would have been
working overtime to paint other masterpieces for altar retablos, for the
palatial homes of the new-rich conquerors, and his work would have been
world-famous from then to now. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is
a lone, mysterious, isolated splendor of that time, and to no other
religious painting anywhere is there imputed supernatural origin.
fact that it still exists, after 430 years, taking into account the poor
material it is on, is prudently considered a continuing miracle. For
well over a century it was not protected by glass, and was exposed to all
the vagaries of Mexican weather. The first chapel or hermitage was
open at one end, (facing the west), except for iron-work gates, and what
windows it had were without glass. The fogs and winds from nearby
Lake Texcoco, a salt lake, were—and still are—laden with alkali and
other chemicals that destroy paint, fabrics, wood and even pit the surface
of stone. But the Portrait is undamaged! In that same first
century and more, the smoke of thousands upon thousands of votive candles
could have ruined it, but it was never blackened by smoke as so many other
noted paintings and statues of Our Lady have been. The Portrait
still exists, beautiful beyond description. As Pope Pius XII
expressed it: "On the tilma of humble Juan Diego—as the
tradition relates—brushes not of this earth left painted an Image most
tender which the corrosive work of the centuries was marvelously to
is something else that is unique about this portrait, this image.
There is a sense of Holy Presence. So many have felt it, over the
centuries. Many people, and not all of them Catholics, by any means,
stop in to talk to us at the English Information Center at the Basilica in
a state of bewilderment: "What goes on here? I've
never experienced anything like this." Priests exclaim that
they were so overwhelmed that they could hardly finish celebrating Mass;
priests who have celebrated Mass at St. Peter's, Fatima, Lourdes, Notre
Dame de Paris, Loretto. It is unique, wonderful, and rather
terrifying. The humblest pilgrim feels it, too, and many Protestants
stop in to say how strange and wonderful it is—they've had something
happen to them they do not understand; and occasionally Jews, taking the
conventional tour with hotel guides, stop for a minute and exclaim:
"This is so wonderful. Can we come back without a guide,
when we don't have to rush, and just stay a while?"
the Patron of America
Holiness Pope John XXIII granted a Marian Year, beginning October 12,
1961, in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the occasion being the 50th
anniversary of the act of Pope St. Pius X in rededicating all of Latin
America to her. All had originally been given to her as Patroness by
Pope Benedict XIV in 1754, upon petition of the King of Spain, when all
these countries were Spanish dominions. In 1910, upon the petition
of some seventy Archbishops and Bishops, St. Pius X renewed the Patronate,
with magnificent ceremonies in her honor in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
patronage was extended to the United States and Canada on October 12, 1945
by Pope Pius XII, on the 50th anniversary of the coronation of
the Holy Portrait, when he hailed Our Lady as Empress of America and Queen
of Mexico, noting that she had been Queen of all these lands from the
moment of her apparitions in 1531, and that at the coronation of the
Portrait in 1895, personally ordered by Leo XIII, "when on that
angelical brow the golden crown shone so brilliantly, from all hearts and
from all throats broke forth the shout until then so impatiently
restrained: 'Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe, Empress of America and
Queen of Mexico!'"