December 9th, 1531, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Juan Diego, a recent convert to the Catholic faith, was walking to attend the early morning Mass in Mexico City. Passing by Tepeyac Hill he heard the beautiful singing of birds, seemingly from heaven. Looking to see where the celestial music was coming from, he suddenly heard a young woman's voice affectionately calling his name, "Juanito."
Reaching the top of the hill, he saw a radiant woman clothed in splendid light - the Ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God. She told Juan that she desired him to be her special messenger to the Bishop of Mexico City. Juan was to tell the bishop that Our Lady wanted a church to be built where she could manifest her Son and hear the petitions of her spiritual children.
After being put off by the bishop's servants, Juan was finally granted an audience with Franciscan Bishop Fray Juan Zumarraga. The bishop didn't initially believe Juan Diego and asked him to return another day. Secretly, the bishop had been invoking the intercession of the Mother of God for help. The Spaniards had recently conquered the native Aztec people and were treating them harshly. Very few were willing to abandon their pagan gods and embrace the religion of their new dictators. All of this weighed heavy on the heart of Bishop Zumarraga, whom history now knows as the "Protector of the Native People." He wondered if Juan Diego's story was the answer to his prayers.
Dejected, Juan returned to Tepeyac and asked Our Lady to use someone else more worthy than himself. She assured him that he was personally chosen to be her ambassador. The next day he returned to plead with the bishop. Though impressed by Juan's persistence, he was still unsure. He sent Juan to tell the Lady he needed a sign in order to know if it was truly her.
Upon hearing the bishop's request, Our Lady told Juan to return the next day and she would give him the sign he needed. Returning home, Juan found his uncle ill and close to death. Instead of returning the next day, Juan stayed home and took care of his ailing uncle. Early on December 12th, Juan rushed to Mexico City in order to get a priest to administer the last rites to his dying uncle. On his way he went around the back of Tepeyac Hill in order to avoid Our Lady whom he knew would surely understand.
But Our Lady meet him anyway telling him not to worry, his uncle was already healed. He was to learn later that at that moment Our Lady had appeared to his uncle, who was restored to health. She urged Juan to go to the top of the hill were he would find flowers miraculously growing. Juan was astonished to see so many vibrant flowers during the frosty time of the year. He cut them and gathered them in his tilma (cloak). Our Lady arranged the flowers with her own hands, rolled up the tilma and ordered Juan not to unfurl his tilma until he was in the presence of the bishop.
After being harassed by the bishop's servants, Juan was finally brought in to see him. After recounting every detail of his conversation with Our Lady, he let down his tilma and the flowers fell to the floor. Juan was surprised when everyone in the room also fell to the floor on their knees. The image of Our Lady had miraculously appeared! Repenting for his unbelief with abundant tears, Bishop Juan Zumarraga promised to build the shrine that Our Lady had requested. Soon the church was built and the holy image transferred. The story spread like wildfire and people began to stream in to see the heavenly image and hear the story from Juan Diego. Many miracles starting happening and in the following years some 10 million were baptized and converted to the Jesus Christ! Pope John Paul II declared Blessed Juan Diego the greatest evangelist of all times.
(Reprinted from the parish bulletin, December 11, 2011)