What a surprise we received on Tuesday, December 12, when we received an email from the artist, Raúl Berzosa, that did our painting of St. Juan Diego, the painting next to the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The artist pointed out that our painting—which we commissioned, installed, and had blessed by Bishop Rojas last February—was used in St. Peter’s Basilica for the cover of their worship aid used for the Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe presided over by Pope Francis.
The Virgin Mary appear to Juan Diego and left her image on his tilma, the poncho-like cloak that indigenous Mexican used at that time: 1531. St. Juan Diego was one of the few Native American Mexicans that had converted during the early colonization of the New World. Most Native Americans were suspicious of the European colonizers, seeing their lust for gold as a kind of idolatry. Also the sometimes brutal and humiliating treatment of the indigenous people by the colonizers also created deep-seated mistrust.
But when Our Blessed Mother left her image on that tilma, miracles of grace began to occur. Native American Mexicans began to come on their own to be baptized, two or three hundred at a time… then by the thousands, men and women, young and old, and from every Mexican tribe. Some walked for days to come to see the Virgin Mother of God, often bringing their sick relatives. The Franciscan missionaries were exhausted because they were so few; once two missionaries baptized over fifteen thousand in one day.
The conversions were real. The converts knew they had to abandon polygamy and be married to one person for life. Prior to Our Lady’s appearance to St. Juan Diego, missionaries had a hard time convincing indigenous Mexicans to accept monogamy and Christian marriage. After Mary’s appearance, Native Americans came to the priests to be married in droves: one day more than five hundred couples came forward to be married in the Church.
The newly baptized also came in great numbers to be catechized, deepening their knowledge of Jesus Christ. This brought about a true transformation in their way of living and led many to confess their sins in Reconciliation and struggle more decisively against sin and temptation. Some would travel for days to get to the missions to go to Confession.
Mary did it all through that image she left on St. Juan Diego’s tilma. Here at St. Mary of the Angels, as we seek to restore the church, especially the North Tower and the Parapet above the façade, we see the potential evangelizing impact that a 25 foot image of St. Mary of the Angels, Our Hope and Protectress, could have. This is in our restoration plan and why we have launched the For All Generations campaign.
Just like the missionaries of old were stymied by the difficult cultural environment confronting them, we know that we can’t do anything without the help of our Blessed Mother.
Fr. John R. Waiss