On the morning of December 9, 1531, a Christian Indian named Juan Diego passed a hill at Tepeyac, not far from present-day Mexico City. Hearing a voice calling him by name, he looked up to see a young Indian maiden. Speaking in his Nahuatl language, she instructed him to tell the bishop to construct a church on this hill, the site of an ancient shrine to the mother goddess. The bishop paid Juan no attention. In subsequent showings the maiden identified herself as the Mother of God and told Juan to gather roses that grew, unseasonably, at her feet. When he returned to the bishop and opened his cape, Juan revealed a full-color image of the Lady mysteriously imprinted on the rough fabric.
So was born the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe (as the Indian name of the Lady was rendered in Spanish). But the apparition truly marked the birth of the Mexican people—a fusion of the Spanish and Indian races and cultures. With her dark skin and Indian features, the Lady offered an image of divine compassion for a demoralized people. Speaking to Juan Diego in his own language, she presented herself in terms of compassion and solidarity, not power and domination. Through him, she called the Church to heed the voice of the poor, to serve as a vehicle for their cultural and spiritual survival. The image, enshrined in a basilica in Mexico City, attracts millions of pilgrims.
“She came to accompany the American people on this hard road of poverty, exploitation, socio-economic and cultural colonialism. . . . The message is simple; it is tender: ‘Am I not here? Am I not your mother?’” —Pope Francis, homily for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe