Juan Diego was born in to the poorest social class of Mexico and converted to Catholicism in his later-life. At the age of 57, he was living with his uncle and worked as a humble farmer. One day in 1531, Juan Diego was walking along the path and was stopped by the sight of a radiant woman who introduced herself as the Virgin Mary. She asked Juan Diego to ask the bishop of the local church to build a church on that hill (Tepeyac Hill) in her honor so that she may hear petitions and heal the people of Mexico. But when Juan Diego went to ask the bishop, the bishop did not believe him and questioned if he had actually had the Virgin Mary appear to him. Rightfully so since Mary appearing to poor, uneducated farmers and requesting a church to be build seems pretty hard to believe.
Doubting himself, Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac Hill, where he had first seen Mary, and sure enough, she appeared to him again and asked him to talk to the bishop again. The bishop, frustrated with Juan Diego, sends him away again questioning his motives and desires for spinning such a story. Juan Diego makes a promise that he will return the next day with proof for the bishop.
However, Juan Diego’s uncle became very sick the next day, close to death, and Juan Diego had to care for his uncle instead of visiting the Virgin Mary. After a couple of days caring for his uncle, Juan Diego felt ashamed he had missed the meeting with the Virgin Mary and took a different path to avoid Tepeyac Hill and to avoid her. She found him anyway and appeared to him a third time. While he explained what had happened, she says “Am I not your mother? Do I not care for you?” and promised his uncle would be cured. Mary instructed him to pick roses on Tepeyac Hill, gather them in his cloak and keep them hidden until he reached the bishop. He doubted there would be flowers since it was the middle of winter but went in obedience and found the roses as promised.
Juan Diego took his rose-filled cloak to the bishop and opened it to let the flowers fall to the ground. Both men were then astonished to find a perfect image of the Virgin Mary on the inside of his cloak. In the image, she is dressed as a native princess dressed in blue, hands folded in prayer, the stars around her are the exact same position that they were the morning she first appeared to Juan Diego. Under her feet is a crescent moon, a symbol of the old Aztec religion meaning she is more powerful than Aztec gods, yet not God herself.
The Virgin Mary also appeared to Juan Diego’s uncle who healed him and give him a message: she wants to be known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe did not appear again. The temple was built and is still there today. Juan Diego’s cloak, woven from cactus fibers, with a shelf-life of just 30 years at best, remains miraculously preserved with Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image. Millions of native Mexicans will convert to Catholicism at the news of what has happened. Millions more will make pilgrimages over the next five centuries to see the miraculous cloak, and to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. Great miracles continue to occur, even today.
“Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of heaven and earth. It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honor. Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.”
-Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego