On the morning of December 12 in 1531, a poor Aztec Indian man named Juan Diego rose, and made his way through the hills to Mass in Mexico City, as he did every morning.

Juan Diego was 57 years old, a humble and devout Catholic in a still largely pagan country. As he walked the familiar path, Juan thought about his family, his work; and he said a prayer for his sick uncle. Suddenly, he heard beautiful music and a woman's voice calling "Juan, Juan".

Turning from the path, Juan climbed Tepeyac Hill and found a beautiful young Indian woman waiting for him at the top of the hill. She told him that she was the Virgin Mary. When the astonished Juan did not answer, she continued, "Tell. your Bishop that I desire a church to be built on this spot. This church will aid the conversion of the Mexican people and be a source of consolation for many."

Leaving the lady, Juan Diego hurried to obey her request. After waiting several hours, he was finally allowed to see the bishop and convey the lady's message. The bishop, perhaps not surprisingly, did not believe Juan. Downcast, the Indian returned to the hill and told the lady what had' happened.

"Do not worry, my little one", she replied soothingly. "Return to the bishop and tell him again. All will be well, you'll see." But when Juan visited the bishop again, again the sceptical cleric did not believe his story. Instead, the bishop asked for a sign from the lady to prove that she was, indeed, the Blessed Virgin.

Poor Juan was almost in despair. How could he return to the Lady and report this second failure? But, obedient to the one whom he knew was the Mother of our Lord, he returned to Tepeyac Hill once again.

The Lady provided the requested sign. Beautiful, fragrant roses appeared on the hillside, and, when Juan had gathered them, Our Lady herself arranged them in his tilma, or cloak. "There, now," she smiled. "Take these roses to the bishop."

In the presence of the bishop for a third time, Juan opened his tilma, and the roses tumbled out at his feet. Awestruck, the bishop fell to his knees. For, in addition to the sign of the roses, there on the inside of Juan's humble tilma was a miraculous image of our Lady.

Soon, a church was built on the site of the apparition, as the Virgin Mary had requested; and within a few years, eight million people had converted to Catholicism.

Guadalupe is the most frequented Marian shrine in the whole world.
About the Tilma

Saint Juan Diego's tilma with its miraculous image hangs to this day in the splendid Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Although more than 500 years have passed, the coarse cactus fiber shows no sign of disintegration. Examinations of the image have been unable to identify the technique used to create the image.

Many details of the image are significant. Mary is portrayed as a young Indian woman, someone the native Mexicans can see as one of their own.

She is surrounded by rays of light and stands on a crescent moon, as the Woman of the Apocalypse is described in Revelation 12:1: "arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars".

Her blue-green mantle is thought to match the color once reserved for the Mexican pagan god and goddess Ometecuhtli and Onecihuatl; and her reddish dress and belt are both associated with pregnancy in Mexican culture.

The stars on Mary's mantle are thought to match the position of some stars in the sky in December of 1531.

All these details create an image of our Blessed Mother that spoke clearly and lovingly to the Aztec natives 500 years ago and speaks just as clearly and confidently to her children today.

The Virgin of Guadalupe had a special role in the evangelization of the Americas. Her importance has been recognized many times. In 1910, Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared the Patroness of Latin America by St. Pius X, and in 1945 Pope Pius XII declared her the Empress of all the Americas.

During his address to the Fourth General Conference of Latin American Bishops in October 1992, Pope John Paul II gave Our Lady of Guadalupe the titles "Star of the First Evangelization" and "Star of the New Evangelization". Later, he wrote, "I welcome with joy the proposal of the Synod Fathers that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer of America, be celebrated throughout the continent on December 12" (Ecclesia in America, 1999). Our Lady of Guadalupe is also called the Patroness of the Unborn.

Celebrating the Feast

In Mexico, the festival or celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe begins in the week before December 12. Families begin to prepare food and decorate their homes; pilgrims begin to travel to Mexico City; some make part of the journey on their knees.

On the evening of December 11, conchero players gather in the atrium of the basilica. (Their name comes from concha, "shell", their mandolin-shaped instruments being made from armadillo shells.) The concheros and other musicians begin playing and dancing at midnight and continue all day.

Fireworks are often set off at daybreak. They open the feast day with a bang! Many people also join candlelight processions to their local churches for Mass. They sing mananitas, "morning songs", as they walk.
Las Mananitas

Las Mañanitas are traditional songs that Mexican people sing early in the morning on special occasions, including the morning of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These verses are also sung on the morning of someone's birthday. There are many verses, but here is the most common verse:

English version:

These are the morning verses
That King David used to sing.
Because today is your birthday,*
We are singing them to you.

Chorus
Awaken, my dear, awaken,
And see that the day has dawned;
Now the little birds are singing,
And the moon has set.

Spanish version:

Éstas son las mañanitas
Que cantaba el Rey David.
Hoy por ser dia de tu santo,
Te las cantamos a ti.

Coro
Despierta, mi bien, despierta,
Mira que ya amaneció
Ya los pajaritos cantan,
La luna ya se metió.

After Mass, everyone returns home for a day of feasting and celebration. Mexican food is known and enjoyed all over the Americas. It is easy to put together some family favorites and some new dishes for a fiesta in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Decorate the table with red, green, and white (the colors of the Mexican flag), and a centerpiece of dahlias (Mexico's national flower).

* Or saint's day.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Dinner Menu

    Soup (optional)
    Refried Beans
    Chicken with Mole 
    Rice 
    Salad with Mint, 
    Watercress, and Parsley Flan
    Mexican Hot Chocolate

Recipe: Refried Beans

Homemade refried beans are much better than canned and almost as easy.

Ingredients

    1 pound dry pinto or kidney beans, rinsed
    2 tablespoons minced garlic
    1 medium tomato, diced (fresh or canned)
    2 tablespoons ground cumin
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    1 onion, finely chopped
    2 tablespoons bacon fat, shortening, or vegetable oil salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the beans in a large saucepan, and cover with an inch of water. Place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and allow the beans to sit for one hour.

After an hour, drain the beans, and cover them with fresh water. Stir in 1 tablespoon of garlic, the tomato, cumin, and chili powder. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the beans are very soft, about 11/2 hours, adding water as needed. Once the beans have cooked, remove and mash half.

Heat the bacon fat, shortening, or oil in a large frying pan or skillet, and add the onion. Cook until translucent but not soft.

Add the whole and the mashed beans, along with the remaining tablespoon of garlic, and salt to taste. Add more chili powder if desired. Cook the beans, stirring often, scraping the bottom of the pan as necessary, until they are heated through. Add additional water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.

Serve hot. Serves 4 to 8.
Recipe: Chicken with Mole

The Spanish word mole (pronounced mow-lay) comes from an Indian word meaning "concoction". Stories about its origins vary, but all suggest that, when an important guest arrived unexpectedly, the cook desperately combined several ingredients to liven up a meal of humble chicken. The results were an instant success.

Children are always thrilled with mole. After all, how often are they allowed to eat chocolate for dinner?

Ingredients

    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    4 onions, finely chopped
    2 pounds tomatoes, chopped; or one 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes with the juice
    4 hot chile peppers, minced; or 2-4 tablespoons of dried chili flakes
    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro 
    ground black pepper to taste
    1 teaspoon white sugar
    6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves; or six chicken legs separated into thighs and drumsticks; or a roasting chicken cut into pieces
    1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    2 bay leaves
    4 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate, grated juice of 1 lime
    1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (for garnish)
    4-6 cups cooked rice

Directions

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, and cook for a few minutes; then stir in the tomatoes, and cook for a few minutes until they release all their juice.

Stir in the hot chile peppers, cilantro, black pepper, and sugar. Bring to a boil, and let it cook for about 10 minutes to thicken.

Add the chicken to the skillet, along with the oregano, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, chocolate, and lime juice. Stir to blend all the ingredients, and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 30 minutes—or until chicken pieces are cooked through.

Remove bay leaves, and serve chicken smothered in sauce over rice. Garnish with additional fresh parsley or cilantro.

Serves 6 to 8.
Recipe: Salad with Mint, Watercress, and Parsley

Ingredients

    3/4 cup olive oil
    3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    salt to taste
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste
    1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
    1 small head romaine lettuce, washed and torn into small pieces 1 small head red lettuce, washed and torn into small pieces
    1 bunch fresh fiat-leaf (Italian) parsley, stems removed
    1 bunch fresh mint, stems removed
    2 watercress, stems removed

Directions

Combine the oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to dissolve the salt and form a dressing.

In a salad bowl, combine the romaine, red lettuce, parsley, mint, and watercress. Drizzle the dressing over the greens, and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately.
Recipe: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

    1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (not hot-chocolate mix!)
    1/4 cup white sugar
    3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or more to tastel pinch of salt (to taste)
    4 cups milk
    1/2 cup half-and-half cream (10 to 15 percent butterfat) 
    3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

In a small bowl or large measuring cup, combine the cocoa, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Heat 1 cup of milk in a saucepan until just beginning to bubble—watch it closely (milk will boil over when it reaches boiling point). Remove from heat.

Slowly add the hot milk to the cocoa mixture, whisking until smooth. Return the chocolate milk mixture to the saucepan, and place it over the heat again. Allow it to come to a boil over low heat. Stir in the remaining 3 cups of milk, and return to boiling.

Before serving, whisk until frothy, stir in the cream and vanilla. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.