In the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church lost many members in Europe due to the Protestant revolt; however the Church gained even more members in the New World through the powerful intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The humblest son
Juan Diego was one of the first to be converted to Catholicism after the Spanish conquered the Mexican Empire. He and his wife were baptized at the church of Santiago. The couple would walk fourteen miles to Tlatelolco for Mass. After the death of his wife in 1529, his devotion to Our Lady became even stronger.
On Saturday December 9, 1531, while on his way to the church at Tlatelolco, Juan Diego came near the hill called Tepeyac; there he heard someone called him from the hilltop. When Juan Diego went up the hill, he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our Lady said, ”Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon and confide in me. Go to the Bishop of Mexico to make known to him what I greatly desire. Go and put all your efforts into this.”
Juan Diego spoke to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, but the Bishop did not believe in him. Juan Diego, therefore, returned to the hilltop and asked Our Lady to send someone more illustrious to convey the message. Our Lady, however, told him to see the Bishop again.
The next day, Sunday December 10, Juan Diego went to see the Bishop. However, the Bishop did not believe in Juan Diego and told him that some sign was necessary.
In 1531, the Mexican people were on the verge of revolting against the Spaniards because of conflicts and tensions. Bishop Zumarraga had begged Our Lady for help and had secretly asked her for Castilian roses as a sign that she would help. Castilian roses did not grow in Mexico but in Spain.
On Monday December 11, Juan Diego did not return to the hilltop. On that day his uncle, Juan Bernardino, became very ill and asked Juan Diego to find him a priest at Tlatelolco.
On Tuesday December 12, Juan Diego went around the hill to avoid Our Lady. But she met him on the side of the hill and said, “Listen and understand, my humblest son. There is nothing to frighten and distress you. Do not let year heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here? Are you not under my protection? Are you not, fortunately, in my care? Do not let your uncle’s illness distress you. It is certain that he has already been cured. Go up the hilltop, my son, where you will find flowers of various kinds. Cut them, and bring them into my presence.”
Juan Diego did as Our Lady had commanded. He was astonished to see so many Castilian roses at a time when the frost was severe, and Our Lady helped arranging them in his tilma (mantle).
Our Lady told Juan Diego to bring the roses to the Bishop. He opened his tilma in the presence of the Bishop, and let the roses scattered to the ground. The image of Our Lady also appeared on the tilma.
Due to the apparitions and the image, great numbers of native Mexicans went to the missionaries for Baptism. Millions were converted in the years immediately following the apparitions and the annual 20,000 human sacrifices to false god was abolished.