Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

The promise of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Last weekend, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines celebrated its 10th anniversary. We were privileged to welcome a special guest, Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, the archbishop primate of Mexico and the custodian of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Tepeyac, who preached the homily.

He and the bishops of Mexico have launched a decade-long plan to prepare for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady in 2031. Millions make a pilgrimage each year on Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (See story on page 7.)

This devotion to Our Lady dates back to Dec. 9-12, 1531, when on Tepeyac Hill, just north of present-day Mexico City, a young native, Juan Diego, experienced the appearance of a young woman of mixed race, wearing a garment he described as shining like the sun. Young Juan was preparing for baptism and on his way to the cathedral to continue his instruction in the Gospel.

Her message to him was to go to the bishop of Mexico City, and ask him to build a church on the hill. Bishop Juan Zumarraga, a Franciscan Friar, wanted proof of the apparition, and so he told Juan to ask the woman for a sign.

On Dec. 12, three days later, she appeared for the last time and pointed to a small rosebush nearby that miraculously appeared in the midst of winter in the dry climate of the hillside. He filled his “tilma,” a tunic made from plant fibers, with the roses and returned to the bishop. When he arrived at the bishop’s residence and opened his tunic, the flowers fell to the ground. The bishop looked on in astonishment, for the tilma bore the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The image portrayed Mary as a young Aztec woman, easily recognizable to the local people. She was a woman with child, wearing an Aztec maternity belt. She was shown eclipsing the sun, moon and stars, which the local people took to mean that she was greater than the gods they worshipped, gods who demanded human sacrifice.

Scientific studies of the tilma reveal no deterioration over these nearly five centuries, although fibers made of cactus ordinarily disintegrate within 60 years. Microscopic examination revealed that there were no brush strokes. Even more significantly, as the image of Our Lady on the tilma spoke to the Mexican indigenous people, millions of Mexicans were baptized soon thereafter.

Following the Mass on June 10, Cardinal Aguiar and I renewed the collaboration between the shrines in Des Plaines and on the Tepeyac hill outside Mexico City, which our predecessors established a decade ago. The Declaration of Intention we signed reaffirms that the faithful may fulfill the promises and vows (“promesas” and “mandas”) to Our Lady at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Archdiocese of Chicago, just as they would if they made a pilgrimage to Mexico. Ours is the only shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has this privilege.

I am personally grateful for the important witness and incredible energy the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings to this local church. In just a few short years, the shrine has grown into a vibrant place of worship, communion and evangelization. It is a sacred place of welcome for people of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds and a place where all can come and experience firsthand the fulfillment of the promise she made to Juan Diego: “to give all of her love, help and protection to all of the peoples of this land” (“Nican Mopouha,” the earliest account of the apparition).

Just as the 500th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico has inspired Catholics around the world, my prayer is that all who visit our shrine in Des Plaines will find strength in knowing that she extends her care and promise to us.

Juan Diego teaches that each of our experiences are important for the life of the church and that what affects the life of the church and world affects us all. Our Lady chose a heartbroken man and neophyte to the faith who was on a journey to learn more about Christ.

While the tilma bears the image of Our Lady, St. Juan Diego is an image for us. We are all on a journey to know Christ more and more.



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