By Angela Covo
SAN ANTONIO — This week on Dec. 12, Roman Catholics throughout the world, but especially in South Texas and Mexico, celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Almost 500 years ago, close to what is now Mexico City, the Virgin Mary appeared to a humble indigenous Aztec known as Juan Diego according to Fr. Marshall, S.J., associate pastor of San Antonio’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on El Paso Street.
“The Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego, who had just converted to Catholicism, and instructed him to build a temple so she could shout her love and mercy for the all those who were oppressed and distressed,” Fr. Marshall explained.
So Juan Diego went to the local bishop who was not at all impressed with his story and asked for more proof. He returned to the place where he had the vision and the Lady appeared to him again.
“He was a humble man and told her he was not worthy of the task, but she insisted and provided him with the needed proof. She had Juan Diego go up on a hill and told him to gather the flowers there for the bishop. The flowers were not just any flowers – they were Castilian Roses, found only in Spain and only in summer – truly a miracle,” Fr. Marshall said.
Juan Diego returned to the bishop with his proof, and the bishop fell to his knees because when the rare roses tumbled out of Diego’s “tilma,” a poncho made of cactus fibers – and an image of the Virgin Mary appeared on it, seemingly out of thin air.
“First a chapel was built for the tilma, and in the weeks following, more than eight million more converted to Catholicism, another miracle,” Fr. Marshall said.
The miraculous image has not faded in more than 480 years.
“The tilma itself should have disintegrated, but it still exists, and many experts who have studied the tilma and the image cannot identify the dye, nor can they explain how the image remains brilliant,” he added.
Our own publisher, Tino Duran, experienced a little series of miracles himself involving the Lady of Guadalupe.
“A couple of years ago, someone from General Motors asked me to try out a new car, whenI got home I discovered a medal of Our Lady in the armrest, so I put it in my pocket,” he said.
That was the first of at least 18 Our Lady of Guadalupe medals that would cross his path within a year’s time.
He even checked with his wife, Millie, who assured him she had nothing to do with the medal in the new car.
Later that day, when he returned to the office, he found a second one, crushed in the dirt, with a clear silhouette of the lady. He kept that one, too.
One after another they appeared, on his desk, in a coat pocket, and yet another in a brand new coat his wife bought him at J.C. Penny.
“They kept turning up in different places, on the ground, in the street, in a restaurant,” Duran said.
In the restaurant, a server had just placed a new setting before him, and when he opened the napkin to get his fork, another medal tumbled onto the table.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “I didn’t know what to make of this – but I was raised with La Virgencita de Guadalupe, so I came to believe it was a message of some kind.”
Duran recalls the medals started appearing shortly after he had a frightening brush with death.
On a regular work day, he was off to a lunch meeting, when he was suddenly overcome with chills and weakness.
“I was so afraid, the ambulance took me to the hospital from the office on Medina Street and I ended up in critical condition from an infection, and the doctors thought I was done for,” he said.
He remembers waking up and seeing all his children standing around the bed looking worried.
“Even I thought I was done for,” Duran said. “The priest came and administered last rites.”
Duran improved steadily and was soon out of danger, but after he was released he was fearful.
“I was afraid – I still had so much to do, and I was worried that I could have a reoccurrence at any time. I was in perfect health the day I got sick,” he explained.
Today, Duran is fearless. He thinks he made the connection and understands what it means that he found all these medals. “The medals were a message of hope – they gave me hope when I was worried, and relieved my fear. I carry them with me always.”
“Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is the place people come to celebrate the feast when they can’t make the pilgrimage to Mexico,” Fr. Marshall said.
From now until Dec. 12, they will have a nightly novena; on Dec. 11 Las Matachines, prayer and talks all day and through the night. At 5:30 a.m. on Dec 12, the Church on El Paso Street will celebrate the Feast Day with Las Mananitas.