Is the Marian apparition called the Virgin of Guadalupe authentic? Is it an official part of the devotional life of the Catholic Church?
The question is certainly legitimate because there are some people who speak of “appearances” of the Blessed Mother as if they were authentic, but are not confirmed by the Catholic Church. Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only judged to be authentic but has been a part of the devotional life of Catholics around the world and especially in the Americas.
It is believed that on December 9, 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to a man named Juan Diego at Tepeyac, not far from Mexico City. In the first apparition, the Virgin asked Juan Diego to have a church constructed on the site. In a second appearance a few days later, Mary instructed Juan Diego to gather some flowers growing nearby and take them to the local bishop. He did so, placing them in the mantle he had been wearing. Upon arriving at the residence of the bishop, Juan Diego opened the mantle and found a painted image of the Virgin exactly as Juan Diego had seen her in the apparitions.
The account is affirmed in several contemporary documents, the first being a description of the meeting between Juan Diego and the bishop. Other material, found in documents dating from the 16th century, also discuss various miracles said to have taken place at the sanctuary which was built on the site of the apparitions.
Ecclesiastical inquiries into these apparitions began shortly after their occurrence and have continued since. An ongoing tradition of great respect for the sanctuary of Guadalupe and for the tradition of the Marian apparitions is evident in the lived experience of the faithful over centuries.
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe has spread far beyond Mexico. The image is found in churches of Europe and even Asia and Africa.
On May 6, 1990, while making a pastoral visit to Mexico, Pope John Paul II conducted a ceremony formally marking the beatification of Juan Diego. In doing so, the Pope offered the Church’s approval of a long-standing affection and devotion to this man who was so intimately involved in the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego in 2002.
The religious appeal of the apparitions and the image of the Virgin Mary resonated with many people. What was profound was that Mary appeared to a poor person and spoke to him in his native language. It was not to any of the highly educated and powerful that she appeared but rather to one who was deeply touched by the appearance of a loving ally in his search for human dignity in the context of struggle and suffering.
The Virgin of Guadalupe continues to inspire devotion and conversion. Her appearance at Tepeyac can be seen as one more means by which God uses instruments to continue to speak to us of our obligation to love God and our neighbor.