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How devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has stood the test of time

“Idolatry!” “A great evil!” “One of the most pernicious things that anyone could sustain against the proper Christianity of the natives!”

The righteous indignation of an angry blogger still fuming over Pachamama and the Synod on the Amazon? No; rather, a sampling from the text of a 1556 sermon by Fray Francisco de Bustamante criticizing Alonso de Montúfar, archbishop of Mexico City, for promoting devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. December 12th is a time for Catholics to recall not simply the miraculous apparitions of Our Lady to Juan Diego in the sixteenth century, but the enduring call to the Church to follow the counsel of St. Paul in matters of culture as well as theology: “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21). Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has stood the test of time, both within Mexican Catholicism and beyond; in 1999, St. John Paul II declared Guadalupe “Patroness of America” and “Star of the New Evangelization.”

With the spread of this devotion, the story of Juan Diego, Guadalupe and the miraculous image that survives as a record of the apparitions has entered the common patrimony of the Church. In 1531, Our Lady appeared to the native Mexican peasant Juan Diego, instructing him to ask the bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, to build a church in her honor on Tepeyac hill, the site of the apparition. After several rebuffs by the skeptical bishop, Juan returned with proof of the apparitions, a harvest of roses miraculously blooming in December. As he opened his cloak (tilma) to show the bishop the roses, pedals fell to the ground and revealed an even greater miracle: an image of Our Lady, appearing as a brown-skinned native princess. The miracle persuaded Zumárraga to build the church and initiated a wave of native evangelization, winning millions of souls for Christ.

Less well known is the history of the testing and the holding fast to the good of Guadalupe, a process that took centuries. The quotations above, from Timothy Matovina’s 2005 book, Guadalupe and Her Faithful, show that decades after the traditional date for the apparitions, the truth of Guadalupe remained very much contested among churchmen. The skepticism sounds eerily contemporary. Bustamante dismissed the “miraculous” image as the work of a native artist. The site of the apparition, Tepeyac, had been a pagan sacred site where natives worshipped the goddess Tonantzin; for Bustamente, this guilt by association spoke for itself. The devotion persisted, receiving papal support as early as the 1570s. Still, the tradition itself continued to develop fairly slowly, especially in light of its subsequent prominence. Written accounts of the story summarized above did not appear until the middle of the seventeenth century.

Read more at Catholic World Report

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