I was prepared to write about a different apparition of Mary, but then I realized that I really wanted to start with the beginning of apparitions in the Americas. That would be Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in December of 1531. Juan Diego, a former Aztec, and convert to Catholicism, was on his way to Mass when saw his first apparition of Mary early in the morning of December 9th. He was an uneducated farmer and laborer; a peasant. He was in his late fifties, hardly your usual age for Marian apparitions.
He hears the song of birds and goes to investigate. He encounters the Virgin. Imagine his surprise! He is a widower of two years and lives with an elderly, unwell uncle. He is most humble, which would be my guess as to why he was chosen for the apparition.
Juan Diego was astonished by the beauty of the native princess. She calmed him, told him who she was, and asked him to speak to the bishop about having a church built on the spot of the apparition, Tepeyac hill, the former spot of the Aztec temple.
When Juan Diego goes to the local bishop, he does not believe him. He wonders of Juan’s motivation. Juan has failed. He returns to Tepeyac hill the next morning, where Our Lady appears to him again. She again urges him to go to the bishop to gain permission for the church to be built there.
Juan again travels to the bishop, who grows weary of the peasant telling this wild story. He demands a sign. Juan assures him he will return the next morning with a sign from the Virgin.
Life gets in the way then, as Juan’s uncle becomes very ill and will almost certainly die. He spends two days with his uncle, and when Juan is sure he will die, he hurries down the road to find a priest. There he encounters Our Lady. He tries to explain what has kept him from his mission, but she gently admonishes him.
He asks her about the sign for the bishop and she instructs him to climb to the top of Tepeyac hill where he will find roses. He is to gather them in his tilma. Juan is surprised at the roses growing there. After all, this is December and the fact that there are roses there at all is a miracle in and of itself. He climbs there and finds the most beautiful roses, unlike he’s ever seen before.
The Virgin warns him to keep the roses in his tilma until he is before the bishop. When Juan returns to the bishop he opens his tilma to spill the roses out, and all are astounded to see a picture on the tilma of Our Lady as the native princess. This is her sign to the bishop.
While she was appearing to Juan, Our Lady was also appearing to his uncle. His sickness left him and he recovered.
The bishop believed Juan with our Lady’s sign and the church was built. It remains to this day, along with Juan’s tilma, a cactus-fiber cloak with a shelf-life of about 30 years. It has survived over 500! Miracles still happen there today. Our Lady of Guadalupe was deemed Patroness of all the Americas in 1945.