Share this story

Our Lady of Guadalupe deals in miracles

Our Lady of Guadalupe deals in miracles

When Megan Chitwood first heard the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, her jaw dropped in wonder and awe.

“I’d love to go down there and see it,” the Spartanburg school district employee said.

“Down there” would be Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City, and “it” would be the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which features the image of Our Lady emblazoned on the cactus-fiber tilma of St. Juan Diego.

Dawn Gentry, also a Spartanburg County School District 6 employee, would like to go down there and see it, too.

She first heard the tale of Our Lady of Guadalupe on one recent morning. That afternoon, she ran into a student with a medallion of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The student had just returned from a funeral in Mexico City and had purchased the pendant, Gentry said. They began talking about the Mexico City miracle of December 1531 that has brought millions of people into the Catholic Church.

“It was no coincidence,” Gentry said.

No, Our Lady does not deal in coincidence — she deals in miracles.

Beginning with a sign

This is how the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe unfolded on that December so long ago, according to written records and tradition.

On Dec. 9, 1531, Juan Diego, an Aztec widower who had converted to Catholicism, was walking near Tepeyac Hill when he heard birds warbling. He looked up and saw a vision of the Virgin Mary, who instructed him to go to the local bishop and request that the bishop build a chapel on top of the hill. But Bishop Juan de Zumarraga had no time for the indigenous man and sent him on his way.

Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac and told Our Lady that he was not worthy to do the job, and she should find somebody else. But the Blessed Mother told him that he was her messenger.

On Dec. 10, Juan Diego returned to Bishop Zumarraga, who listened this time to Juan Diego’s message. The bishop told the Catholic convert that he wanted a sign to show it was truly the Virgin Mary who requested the chapel.

When Our Lady heard this, she told Juan Diego to go on top of Tepeyac and pick roses, place them in his tilma and deliver them to the bishop — only it was wintertime, and roses don’t blossom in winter in Mexico — especially Castilian roses native to Spain, the bishop’s homeland.

These roses, however, were in full bloom on Dec. 12. 

When Juan Diego unfolded his tilma in front of Bishop Zumarraga, and the roses spilled out, the bishop fell to his knees. He recognized the Castilian roses. More importantly, he recognized the life-like image of a pregnant, indigenous woman surrounded by rays and stars as Our Lady, miraculously adorning the tilma.

So, the bishop built the chapel and had Juan Diego’s tilma placed in a shrine inside.

More than 9 million people who saw Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image were converted within a decade, according to records. Over the centuries, millions more have come as pilgrims to see the Blessed Mother and millions more have been converted.

Yes, Our Lady indeed deals in miracles.

Juan Diego’s tilma should have disintegrated more than 450 years ago. Today, it still shines bright and visible is now in a basilica on Tepeyac Hill.

Authorities estimate 3 million people will journey to the basilica this Dec. 12 — the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe — to witness the miracle and to bolster their faith.

But you don’t have to travel to Mexico to believe. Parishes across South Carolina will be holding festivals on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12 to honor the feast.

Those with large Hispanic/Latino memberships go all out.

Sumter

“It’s part of the Hispanic culture. They are very devoted to Our Lady,” said Adorno Father German Coquilla, parochial vicar at St. Anne and St. Jude Church.

This year, Father German is moving the festivities to Dec. 11, the evening before Our Lady’s feast day, because it falls on the third Sunday of Advent. He said the parish will have the procession after the Saturday Mass and followed by a light dinner.

Goose Creek

Adorno Father Noly Berjuega, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, said the parish also is shifting Guadalupe celebrations to Dec. 11. Parishioners will pray the rosary at 6 p.m. then hold a reenactment of the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe along with dancing, where participants all dress up in costumes, he said.

At 7 p.m. the parish will serve hot chocolate and corn wraps and enjoy a time of togetherness centered on Our Lady. Then, at 9 p.m., Father Frank Palmieri will celebrate Mass. The highlight comes at 10 p.m., when Father Noly said parishioners “will serenade Our Lady of Guadalupe” by singing Las Mañanitas, a popular Mexican birthday song that is customarily sung to women.

Spartanburg

Jesus Our Risen Savior Church always has a big festival, and this year is no exception. Parishioners will pray a novena, starting at 7:30 each evening leading up to Our Lady’s feast day. Then, at 4 p.m. on Dec. 12, they will celebrate Mass, hold a procession, dress up, dance and enjoy a big supper. They might even have a piñata this year.

Across town, at St. Paul the Apostle, Norma Stokes said the Guadalupe festivities have grown over the past five years, but they were canceled last year because of COVID.

“The last time we held it, we filled up the gym,” she said.

The celebration will start with a procession after the 11 a.m. Mass on Dec. 12.

“We’re having a covered-dish lunch, and everyone is invited,” Norma said. She added that traditionally people bring tamales, empanadas, Spanish rice and guacamole to the feast, and all are welcome. People are encouraged to bring any family-favorite dish.

Resonating today

These celebrations show that Our Lady’s mission of bringing people to God still resonates today.

Back in 1531, Bishop Zumarraga found himself embroiled in a cultural clash. The Aztecs held human sacrifices to please their gods. The Conquistadors had sailed to the New World for fame and fortune, and they were brutal about obtaining that quest. The missionaries, meanwhile, wanted to bring souls to God but were facing massive resistance. The country that would become Mexico was in bloodied turmoil. The bishop needed a sign, something to bring unity to this clash of cultures, and Our Lady of Guadalupe delivered in miraculous fashion. Not only that, but she also ended the practice of human sacrifices.

Today, human sacrifice has returned, and the world has devolved into chaos once again. It needs Our Lady. She is still here, a symbol of the sanctity of life, as she humbly prays on St. Juan Diego’s tilma and points the way to God, to peace and to unity.

Yes, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe still brings wonder and awe to those who hear it and even now, she is busy moving hearts. She has amazed Megan Chitwood, piqued the interest of Dawn Gentry, and welcomed those who come to the faith. We have reason to celebrate.


Joseph Reistroffer is a long-time writer who teaches religious education classes at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg. Email him at jrjoeyr@gmail.com.