A barren hillside in Mexico. A humble peasant named Juan Diego. A beautiful lady. A painted tilma.
The facts surrounding the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe are known to most informed Catholics.
Or are they?
"Ask just about any educated Catholic where Guadalupe is, and the answer you’re likely to get is ‘Mexico,’" says movie director and producer Tim Watkins. "But, in fact, Guadalupe is in Spain."
It’s a surprising piece of information, one of many revealed in the fascinating documentary The Blood and the Rose.
"There are numerous connections between certain events that took place in both the Holy Land and in Europe and the events which led up to Our Lady’s miraculous appearance in the New World," says Watkins. "Their convergence, more than 15 centuries in the making, was guided by the hand of divine Providence."
The feature-length documentary — which brings together the talents of executive producer Steve McEveety (The Passion of the Christ) and actor Eduardo Verastegui (Bella) — includes on-location interviews with experts in the fields of science, history and theology.
Their findings help to recount the "untold" part of the Guadalupe story, which, says Watkins, "doesn’t end with Juan Diego."
"The movie really conveys much more than the Guadalupe story," agrees Raymond Arroyo, creator and host of EWTN’s The World Over and guest speaker at the Jan. 24 premiere screening of the documentary.
Referring to the image of Guadalupe, he says that "any image that shows up 500 years after its premiere on an air freshener or a rapper’s bicep is an image firmly ensconced in the popular imagination."
But, as Watkins observes, key elements of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe are usually missing from these reproductions. "This is no ordinary icon that we can just alter at will to suit different applications and tastes," he says. "God himself is the artist, and he conveys in the image numerous messages and proofs that demonstrate that it is nothing less than his word."
The film sheds light on many of these elements, including the pattern on Our Lady’s garment.
"It is a perfect representation of the constellations as they were arranged in the night sky on the exact date that the image appeared," explains Watkins.
Besides revealing the whole message of Guadalupe, Watkins hopes that the film will inspire a new generation of "messenger eagles" to evangelize our present culture.
The term derives from Juan Diego’s indigenous name, "Cuauhtlatoatzin," which means "the eagle who speaks."
Through his humble service to Our Lady, Juan Diego brought the Gospel to the Americas, thus fulfilling his calling to become a "messenger eagle" for the Catholic faith.
It is noteworthy that the task of opening the way for the evangelization of the New World was given to a poor, uneducated man.
"God chooses messengers we wouldn’t expect, messengers who challenge our thinking," says Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, which benefitted from the gala film screening.
The documentary beautifully portrays the holiness of Juan Diego, who, as the obedient servant of Our Lady, "speaks of service from those less fortunate," says Msgr. Enzler.
Msgr. Enzler, who was recently named "Washingtonian of the Year," adds that "it is natural for all of us to want to serve."
No matter what our circumstances or social stature, "we experience God when we give of ourselves wholly to others and open ourselves up to whatever comes next," he says.
It was by "giving of themselves wholly" that Franciscan missionaries began to convert the native population of the continent 10 years before the Blessed Virgin appeared to Juan Diego.
Through their efforts, 200,000 natives were baptized into the Church. In the decade following the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the conversions totaled an astounding 9 million.
The spiritual connection between Juan Diego and the New World missionaries is evident in the film, notes John Clem, founder of Catholic Web Services and a lay Franciscan. "Juan Diego lived the Gospel even in adversity, and he did so faithfully for his entire life in a simple and loving way," Clem says. "His was a Franciscan spirituality."
Tim Watkins calls St. Juan Diego "a gentle spirit living in a culture of death. I think it’s important for us to realize just how much we have in common with him.
"Yes, Our Lady called Juan Diego in a miraculous way, but, like a true mother, she calls each and every one of us as well. This is what makes us worthy to deliver her message — if only we’re humble and trusting enough to say Yes."
Watkins hopes that filmgoers will answer Our Lady’s call: "Juan Diego’s faithfulness brought about great blessings, not just for himself, but for the entire world. It is my hope that The Blood and the Rose empowers people, however humble, to deliver God’s message and, in so doing, transform our culture."
Celeste Behe writes from
Visitors to the movie’s website (TheBloodandtheRose.com) may sign up for news and updates on the film and arrange for screening events.