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  • Writer's pictureIoana Belcea

La Guadalupana

Nican mopohua, motecpana..."Here it is told, it is presented in an orderly fashion, the portentous apparition, not long ago, of the fair lady, Saint Mary, the sweet mother of God, our noble lady, called Guadalupe, there on the Tepeyac, 'the nose of the mountain'. First she appeared to a simple man named Juan Diego. Then, her precious image appeared to the recently elected bishop, Don Fray Juan Zumáraga, as did all the miracles she performed."

Thus starts the beautiful poem which describes the story of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the Aztec peasant named Juan Diego and how she miraculously left her image on his tilma. The poem was written in náhuatl, the language of the Aztecs and follows the form of native pre-hispanic poetry. The most plausible conjecture according to the experts is that the poem was written by the Mexican native academic Antonio Valeriano in 1556, twenty some years after the event, and reflects an already well established oral tradition.

"Juanito, Juan Dieguito", comes the call from the height of the hill, from where the sun rises and the birds give voice to "precious celestial songs". Following the call, Juan Diego finds a noble lady waiting for him. "She was beyond all perfection, her dress shone, glowed like the sun. And the stones, the rocks under her feet shot their radiant arrows like precious jade, sparkling like jewels. The earth shimmered like the radiance of the rainbow. And the mesquites, the prickly pears and the other varied plants that grew there, looked like the iridescent feathers of the quetzal, their foliage appeared like turquoise, their trunks, their thorns, their little thorns shone like gold."

The exchange between Mary and Juan Diego is intimate, expressed in terms of tenderness with many diminutives and words of endearment. She addresses him as "my son, the smallest of my sons", he calls her "my lady, noble lady, the best loved, my sweetheart". She sends him on a mission because she wants to "show, to make apparent, to proffer to the people all my love, my compassionate gaze, my help, my protection. Because, in truth, I am your compassionate mother, yours and of all those who live together in this land and of all the other people, who love me, who call on me, who search me out, who trust in me."

Mary introduces herself to Juan Diego thus: "I am the forever virgin, Saint Mary, the loving mother of him who is the true God, Giver of life, Inventor of the people, Master of Creation, Master of the skies, Master of the earth."

Juan Diego sees himself as the lowest of the low, an unfortunate laborer, a beast of burden, of no account, with no right to be in the place where she sends him, to the bishop's palace. She should send a man of noble birth, a man who's name is known, revered, respected, someone worthy to deliver her word. Answers the perfect, admirable maiden: "Listen, the youngest of my sons, so your heart understands, those who do my bidding, my messengers, to whom I can entrust to convey my whisper, my word, who can make my wish come true are not those of an exalted position. But it is essential that you be the one who goes, who advocates for me, that thanks to you it comes to be, that my wish, my will be done."

Like a knight errand, three times Juan Diego faces the bishop with the lady's request that a church be built on Tepeyac in her name. Three times he is turned away. Overcome by disappointment and worldly cares (the fatal illness of his beloved uncle) he falters, he wishes to give up the divinely inspired mission only to be reproved by the noble lady: "Listen, to me my son, the smallest of my children, and keep it in your heart, what you fear, what worries you is of no import. Don't let your countenance, your heart be troubled, do not fear this illness, not any other illness which afflicts, which overwhelms. Am I not here, I who am your loving mother? Are you not sheltered in my shadow, under my protection? Am I not the reason for your joy? Are you not cradled in my lap, where I protect you? What else do you desire?"

The journey of conversion of Juan Diego with all its tribulations ends here with the gift of the roses which she places in the lap of his tilma. They are symbols of God's grace, spiritual flowers of holiness and glory. The imprint she leaves on his tilma is an expression of the image he carries in his heart of her, the Queen of Roses. This is what literally becomes apparent to Bishop Zumáraga and convinces him of the truth of Juan Diego's words. Roses tumble out of Juan Diego's tilma and the image which survives to this day is revealed. The miracle and mystery of the intimate relationship between the humble servant and the perfect divine maiden is the kernel of this beautiful story: the divine speaking to the human and leaving an imprint on the heart. The healing of Juan Diego's uncle and the other miracles attributed to Mary's intercession in the blood soaked land of the Mexica bear witness to the power of her prayers on our behalf, her role together with her Son as mediator between earth and heaven, and above all, her spiritual motherhood to sinner and saint alike.

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