By John Heuertz
Special to the Catholic Key
KANSAS CITY — On December 9, 1531, a Mesoamerican Catholic named Juan Cuauhtlatoatzin — “Talking Eagle” — was hurrying to Mass in Mexico City to pray for his sick uncle when the sweetest voice he ever heard called to him from the summit of Tepeyac — site of a centuries-old shrine to Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of earth and corn. Her name means “our mother” in Nahuatl, an Indian language.
Spanish soldiers and missionaries had been in Mexico for a decade, attempting to win souls for Christ and riches for the Spanish crown. Juan and his relatives were baptized. But they were exceptions, because most of the Indians tended to judge things by the soldiers’ cruelties and not by the Franciscans’ mercies.
The Spaniards hadn’t come thousands of miles to take no for an answer to anything, and the Indians had had about enough. Relations between two large, hostile groups of people were growing tenser by the day. The Spanish had the latest high-tech weaponry and no qualms about using it. The Indians had a huge numerical advantage and a growing desire to defend their homeland. Both sides were known for utter ruthlessness in battle. Everyone knew something horrible was just waiting to happen.
This was the situation when Juan climbed the hill and found a Nahuatl princess about 15 years old. She was wearing the distinctive sash worn by expectant Nahuatl mothers and called herself Te Cuauhtlacuepeuh, or “She who crushes the serpent’s head.”
The princess told Juan she was the mother of the true God, and to ask the local Franciscan bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, to build a chapel in her honor on the spot.
For his part, Bishop Zumárraga was devoted to Our Lady, and increasingly concerned about the ominous situation developing all around him. He prayed day and night for her assistance and he wanted a sign it was really from her and not a devilish impostor.
The bishop specified Castilian roses, which only grow in Spain, so the princess gathered an armful of them and arranged them in Juan’s tilma, or cloak, telling him to go to the bishop. She also put something in it he didn’t know about. It was December 12.
After waiting three hours, Juan was finally admitted to the bishop’s quarters. One can only imagine his amazement at opening his cloak and seeing the bishop and his small retinue suddenly fall to their knees, beholding the Mother of God’s self-portrait, weeping and thanking and praising God!
The great nation of Mexico was born when St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Indian, showed a miraculous image of the Mother of God to a Spaniard, Juan de Zumárraga. In that single act she freed the Indians from their fearful religion and the Spaniards from their inborn racial prejudices.
There would be no mutual assured destruction, no more industrial-scale human sacrifice — infants and young children were preferred victims — and no more learned theological debates about whether the Indians were really human beings with souls. Nine million were baptized in the next eight years.
The Mother of God called a whole new people into being on December 12, 1531, and this has never happened anywhere else in the history of the world. Perhaps it helps explain the joyous fervor of “Las Mananitas,” the traditional celebrations in Our Lady of Guadalupe’s honor on December 12.
“I’ve been here seven years, and they’ve been going on a lot longer than that,” says Fr. Al Ebach C.PP.S., pastor of Sacred Heart parish and rector of the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in Kansas City.
At 5:30 a.m. last Monday, men and women of all ages gathered in front of the Shrine for dances with a traditional Indian feel performed by the parish’s 18 Guadalupe Matechine Dancers wearing headdresses with red, white and green feathers, decorated yellow satin leggings, and red satin vests with “Sagrado Corazon Guadalupe” and the Guadalupe image beautifully embroidered on the back of each vest.
The Beto Lopez Mariachis provided the music for three hymns sung in Our Lady’s honor outside, and for the Mass that followed. About 300 people filled the church for Mass. These dancers and musicians then spent the day traveling around the city to repeat the performances in several locations.
All the singers and dancers are volunteers, and the event is hosted each year by the Guadalupana Society to thank Our Lady for her many blessings.
In his homily, Fr. Ebach touched on St. John the Apostle’s famous “woman clothed with the sun” vision recorded in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 12:1) with respect to the Blessed Mother, on Marian apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima, and on the miracles that continue in the world today through her intercession.
“But what she really wanted in all her apparitions was for us to know her Son, Jesus Christ,” he said.