Wondering why all of your Catholic friends are headed off to church today? Today is the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, a holy day in the Catholic religion that honors the Virgin Mary and a vision that a young man had of her almost 500 years ago.
The man was a young peasant named Juan Diego. According to the story, he was traveling on a hillside in the Tepeyac desert, near Mexico City when he suddenly had a vision of a young woman whom he knew to be the Virgin Mary. The woman in the vision told him to build a church exactly on the spot where they were standing. When Juan returned to his village, he told the local bishop, who asked Juan to return to the hillside and bring back proof of his vision. Juan returned and the woman appeared again. When he told her that the bishop wanted proof, she told him to bring a handful of the roses that were growing behind him. Juan did as he was told, placing the roses in his poncho and returning to his village. When he returned and opened his poncho to show the bishop, instead of roses, there was an image of the young lady in the vision.
The date was December 12, 1531. For centuries, Catholics have honored this day with week long celebrations that include parades, dancing, festivals, and prayer. It is particularly important for Mexican Catholics who point to this vision as the primary reason that millions of Mexicans ultimately converted to Catholicism.
Juan Diego's original poncho, or tilma is on display at the Basilica of Guadalupe, the shrine built to honor the Virgin Mary which today is one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world.