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The Guadalupe/Juan Diego controversy: A collision of humankind’s primal need for devout faith and fervent reason

Tuesday, December 12, Mexico celebrates the moment in 1531 that Jesus’ mother in the form of the dark-complected Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have appeared to Juan Diego, a recently baptized Mejica (Aztec) peon. 

pg15On an early cold Saturday morning on December 9, tradition says, he was on his way to mass in Tlatelolco, a barrio of Mexico City. As he passed Tepeyac Hill, where the ruins of the temple of the “pagan” Mother Goddess, Tonantzin, mixed with volcanic litter and cactus, a female voice startled Juan Diego, addressing him in his native Nahuatl.

Immediately mystery enters this event. A young girl of 15-16 surrounded by shimmering light told Juan Diego that she wished a teocalli (temple) built on that site in her honor. Every teen-age girl in Spanish Christendom knew that poor indios did not mingle with Church prelates, with those who decided where to erect churches. The next morning, the girl stopped Juan Diego with the request again. It took courage and effort to get to the door of Mexico’s first Catholic bishop, Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop and his aides ignored the Mejica peon’s story of an apparition. Diego kept returning. Zumarraga, to put an end to the nuisance, insisted on miraculous proof of Diego’s tale. The morning after, Juan Diego returned, carrying Castilian roses, not indigenous to the area, certainly not in bloom on a frosty morning among rocky ruins. Juan Deigo opened his tilma (cloak) and the roses the girl had given him spilled out, leaving an indelible image of her as the dark-skinned Mother of Jesus on his wrap.

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