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The Miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Her Significance for the Americas

Amidst the flurry of holiday preparations this busy Christmas season, many people today in the United States, Mexico, and throughout the Americas pause to reflect on and celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In 1531, just ten years after Spain's conquest of central Mexico, a "lady from heaven" appeared to a poor Aztec Indian, Juan Diego. She spoke to him in his native Nahautl, and promised to protect and console the indigenous peoples if they would have faith in her and her Son, and requested that a church be built on Tepeyac Hill, the site of her apparitions.

On December 12, 1531, the date of her final apparition, Juan Diego told the Lady that the local bishop did not believe his story, and demanded a sign before he would commence construction of a church at that site. Our Lady asked Juan Diego to collect Castilian roses from the top of the hill--a seemingly strange request in the middle of the winter--and present them before the bishop. He collected the out-of-season roses in his tilma, or cactus-fiber cloak, and set off to show his bishop this granted sign. Upon opening his cloak, the roses tumbled to the ground, revealing a life-size image of the Lady on the inside of his tilma. She appeared with dark, indigenous skin, in Aztec dress, and surrounded by symbols of the local culture. Juan Diego's tilma is still on display today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, nearly 500 years later, and has withstood centuries without decay, even surviving a chemical spill and a bombing.

Following the miracle in 1531, thousands of Aztecs abandoned their indigenous beliefs and bloody rituals, converting to Christianity. They have come to recognize Mary as the Mother of All, and the Protectress of the vulnerable, not only the Queen of the Church of the European rich and noble. Mary's message was one of peace and comfort, of inclusion and faith for all--those in the Old World and the New. In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego, making him the first indigenous American declared a saint, and declared Our Lady of Guadalupe as Patroness of the Americas.

As advancements are made in technology and forensic science, experts continue to make even more discoveries about the miraculous existence of the image on Juan Diego's tilma. (Watch the documentary Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message on Amazon Prime.) Her image has emerged over the centuries as a symbol of Mexican national identity and solidarity among all Americans in the New World. Celebrations commemorating her feast day are held each year in communities throughout the United States, and feature prayer, music, food, and matachines dancers.

Whether or not you're a believer, we can all appreciate the message of inclusion, acceptance, and solidarity that Our Lady of Guadalupe and her annual celebrations bring to our communities and the generations to follow.

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