our lady of guadalupe – patroness of the americas

Catholic heritage and culture is filled with stories of miraculous appearances of Mary around the world. December 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.

The story is lovely. In 1531, Our Lady appeared to an Aztec indigenous peasant named Juan Diego. She asked him to build a church where they were standing. When he repeated the request to the bishop, the bishop asked for proof. So, Juan Diego returned to the spot.

The woman then instructed him to climb to the top of the mountain, normally a barren place. There, he found a bush of roses in full bloom. He filled his tilma and returned to the bishop. When he opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, an imprint of the Blessed Virgin appeared. The image is displayed in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico, and is a popular pilgrimage destination.

Technically, belief in any apparitions or visions is optional for Catholics. And, the church takes great care investigating the probability of their legitimacy; and probability is all that it can provide. Wisely, the church plays the role of the sceptic. False visionaries abound, and many people are desperate for divine or heavenly signs. For example, the church still refuses to approve modern day apparitions at Medugorje, and investigations continue.

So what does it all mean? Is it just another example of Catholic superstition and hocus-pocus?

Mary plays an important role in our Catholic faith. No, we do not worship her. She is our sister in prayer; praying with us and for us. She is a strong woman of faith and action. Her courageous Yes to God’s call made her the first disciple. And, she is the compassionate and protective mother. In her Magnificat prayer, she speaks of humbling the powerful and raising the lowly. The more popular apparitions of Guadalupe, Lourdes and Fatima all have Mary appearing to either a peasant or peasant children.

The beauty of Marian apparitions and miracles, authenticity aside, is the power of the story. Through these stories, Mary breaks into cultures around the world. She becomes one with those who love her and look to her for protection and prayers. Her image becomes global; her skin reflecting the skin of local peoples, her clothes mirroring their clothes. She becomes one of them. She becomes one of us.