The Christian faith is a living thing, an active relationship between the creator of the universe and his creations, his people. God is not a distant figure, uninvolved in the affairs of men. Holy Scripture is full of stories of God and his messengers in the form of angels intervening in the affairs of men to care for and protect God's children. Furthermore, these connections between Heaven and Earth did not end with the conclusion of the New Testament.
Within the last 500 years there have been many documented appearances of our Lord and Mary at different times and places. The miracles at Lourdes France in 1858 and Fatima, Portugal in 1917 are two thoroughly substantiated miracles approved by the church. A third approved visitation of Mary, mother of Jesus under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in the Americas yearly on December 12th. Under this title she is the saint or patroness of both the Americas (because of where she appeared) and the unborn (because in the image she depicted herself as the pregnant mother of Jesus). The appearance of Mary to a peasant Indian in Mexico City named Juan Diego in 1531 is described at the link above. Mary appeared there to speak to the local people who were just starting to be reached by the Christian faith, and to ask that a church be built there to stand as a sign of her intercession on behalf of the people of the Americas. When the local bishop asked Juan Diego for proof that he was being visited by the Virgin Mary, she appeared to him again, healed his uncle of a deathly fever, and left him with a mysteriously imprinted image of herself on his cloak or tilma, by arranging roses within it. Over four hundred years later the tilma and its image remain intact and viewable at the shrine (pictures later) although this would not be expected due to the low cost, open weave cloth the cloak is made from. Much scientific research has been done on this cloth and image which I will not go into here. See articles such as this one for more details.
I recently had an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to this holy place, and this is what I found.
I was fortunate to arrive coincidentally on the feast day itself when thousands of pilgrim's are present to witness the various events of the day. The taxi driver could not get me any closer then about 10-12 blocks from the site because so many people were present and many of the local streets were closed to traffic.
Here are a couple pictures of the basilica around sunrise on my second visit.
The actual appearances occurred on a hill overlooking the site known as Tepeyac
Why would I make such a pilgrimage? Do such religious sites like this still matter? Sites and events such as Guadalupe are not necessary to faith or
salvation, but they are helpful signposts along the way. The
incarnation of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and his subsequent death on
the cross and resurrection are more then enough evidence for me.
But, places like the Guadalupe shrine in Mexico City are reminders that
Heaven and Earth are connected, and the story is still in progress. We
have a chance to participate in that story. The fact that Mary would visit the Americas, to a normal
peasant, helps me remember that me and my story matter as well. The
story did not end 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem.
It seems reasonable to believe when Mary appeared to Juan Diego she sanctified him and the location in some special way. This fact is further confirmed by the canonization of Juan Diego as a recognized saint, by the Church on July 31st, 2002. That peace and holiness was still quite evident to me during my short visit to Guadalupe. The physical beauty of the gardens of Tepeyac are overwhelming.
For a full, captioned album of the visit, see: