On December 12 we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is the feast of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego, a native Mexican peasant who experienced apparitions of Mary on the Hill of Tepeyac in present-day Mexico City.

There are many stories of saints that inspire us. One saint in particular that always seems to inspire is St. Juan Diego. Perhaps it is because Juan Diego’s story is so humbling. We know he was a simple man whose faith and persistence ultimately impacted millions of people to convert to Catholicism. Even today his story impacts us. Why did Mary choose Juan Diego to appear to? Why did he listen? To answer this, we need to examine what transpired on that day (December 9) in 1531.

While walking up the hill of Tepeyac, Juan Diego — a weaver, farmer and laborer — encountered a beautiful lady who appeared to him, humbling him to his knees. He learned that she was Mary, the mother of Jesus. She spoke to him in the native language of the Aztecs. After identifying herself to him she spoke these words:

My son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-Virgin Mary; mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth and I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask for my help in their work and in their sorrows will know their mother’s near in this place. Here I will see their fears and I will console men and they will be at peace.

Based on her words, Juan Diego approached the Archbishop of Mexico City (Fray Juan Zumárraga) with her request. He didn’t believe him. On December 10, he talked with the Archbishop a second time, pleading that he grant her request. He instructed him to return to her and asked for a sign to prove her identity. But Juan Diego’s uncle fell gravely ill, so his plan to see Mary was halted so he could care for his uncle. He began to get worried about not meeting with her so he agreed to take another route up that same hill on December 12.

Our Lady met him and said to him, “Am I not here. I who am your mother.” She assured him that his uncle would recover. She told him to gather specific flowers, even though finding them (Castilian roses) would be difficult since they were not native to Mexico at this time of year. He assumed this would be his proof to bring to the archbishop. He did as he was instructed and brought her the flowers. She arranged them in his cloak (tilma) and he took them to Zumárraga, opening his tilma to display the flowers. The flowers tumbled out to the floor  — but the fabric of his coat was covered in the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Witnessing this miracle, the Bishop agreed to build the church.

Juan Diego’s uncle fully recovered. He told the archbishop of his miracle cure. Mary desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe.

Today, Juan Diego’s tilma is Mexico’s most popular religious symbol. Unlike any painting, it shows no sketching, or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce it. The very method to produce it is still not known. It can be seen today in a large basilica built to house up to 10,000 people.

St. Juan Diego is a story of faith. This was a man who had faith — and ultimately his faith impacted millions of people around the world.

St. Juan Diego, pray for us.