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The Holy See Press Office announced that, “On the occasion of Christmas, Pope Francis is sending a letter to all Heads of State inviting them to make a gesture of clemency towards those brothers and sisters of ours deprived of their liberty who they deem fit to benefit from this measure, so that this time marked by tensions, injustices and conflicts, can be open to the grace that comes from the Lord.”


I spent a wonderful morning at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas with Fr. Benedict Croell, a Dominican friar originally from Colorado who is now the university’s Director of Development and Mission Advancement. The university is known in Rome as the “Angelicum,” a reference to the title “Angelic Doctor” given to the one of the most celebrated Dominicans, St. Thomas Aquinas.

I’ve done several radio interviews for “Vatican Insider” in which I have profiled some of Rome’s pontifical universities, and today I spoke with Fr. Croell to profile this Dominican university.

I not only interviewed Father Benedict but was guided by him on a tour of the grounds of this amazing 16th century building in the heart of Rome– literally from top to bottom, from the stunning views of Rome from the top floors to the refectory in the basement – and lots of places in between!

You’ll be able to listen to that interview this coming weekend on Vatican Insider and I’ll also share some of the many pictures I took today.

Over the years I’ve been to the Angelicum for lectures (days ago a talk by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito), and years ago for a canon law course but never saw as much of the actual university as I did today!

When I first started to work at the Vatican I decided I wanted to expand my knowledge in a number of areas in order to better serve the Church and I started by taking a canon law course at the Angelicum with Fr. Joseph Fox, OP. I did not take this to obtain a degree but just to improve my knowledge of this one area of the Church – her law. Fr. Benedict noted this admission of mine and added me to his list of alumna!

It’s been a busier than usual Wednesday for me, and the day will soon end with Vespers and Mass with the Marian Fathers to mark their feast day of the Immaculate Conception. The Marians usually celebrate Vespers and dinner on the vigil of the December 8th feast day but this year had to change the date. The Marian Father you are most familiar with is surely Fr. Joe Roesch – you’ve seen him a lot of EWTN, especially when it comes to programs having to do with Divine Mercy.

In between the my time at the Angelicum and dinner with the Marian Fathers was “Catholic Connection” with Teresa Tomeo.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and I want to leave you with two inspiring stories about her. You might want to read the second article in silence, contemplating the history, symbolism and meaning of the famed icon.


The eyes of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe are one of the great enigmas of science, according to a Peruvian engineer José Tonsmann, who has extensively studied this “mystery.”

The eyes of the image are especially mysterious. Although their dimensions are microscopic, the iris and the pupils present the highly detailed images of 13 people. The same people are present in the left eye and the right, with different ratios, just as images are transmitted by human eyes.

The reflection transmitted through the eyes of the Virgin of Guadalupe is thought to be the scene in which Juan Diego brought the flowers given him by Our Lady as a sign to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, on December 9, 1531.

Tonsmann studied the images of Our Lady’s eyes using his experience from analyzing microscopic and satellite photographs, skills from his background while at IBM.

Tonsmann began to develop his study of the eyes in 1979. He widened the iris in the eyes of the Virgin to a scale some 2,000 times the actual size and, through mathematical and optical procedures, was able to make out the characters printed in the eyes of the Virgin.

According to Tonsmann’s findings, in the image of Guadalupe, we have something “that has not been painted by human hand.”


by Father Michael Morris

Great art has contributed to the culture of the Church. But once in a rare while, another kind of sacred image appears that does not seem to be the work of human hands. The Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Veronica are examples. In the Western Hemisphere, the greatest and most potent image attributed to heavenly intervention is that of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Miraculous vision

It appeared in 1531 on the cactus-fiber cloak, or tilma, of a native Mexican who had been baptized and given the name Juan Diego. It had been 10 years since Hernando Cortez had overtaken the Aztec Empire and subjugated the land that he called New Spain. With great difficulty, the missionaries tried to make converts among the native peoples.

Juan Diego’s conversion had been sincere, and he was on his way to Mass one cold December morning when Our Lady appeared to him on a hill called Tepeyac and spoke to him in his native tongue. She ordered him to tell Bishop Juan Zumarraga of Mexico City to build a church there in her honor. When he finally gained an audience with Bishop Zumarraga, the good bishop hesitated, not knowing whether to believe the native’s astonishing story. He asked Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign in order to assist him in his decision.

On his return home, Juan Diego again encountered the Virgin, who bid him to return to the bishop with the same message the next day. She would provide him with a sign. Upon returning to his village, however, Juan learned that his beloved uncle was near death and urgently bid him to find a priest to assist him in his final hours. Now burdened with two urgent requests, Juan Diego opted to first aid his uncle by finding a priest.

He purposefully took another route around Tepeyac in order to avoid the Virgin. But she intercepted him, assuring him that his uncle would be cured. She ordered him to climb the barren hill and gather the roses he would find on its summit and take them to the bishop who had requested a sign. Juan Diego did so and before departing on his journey the Virgin herself arranged the miraculous blooms in the folds of his cloak. This time Juan Diego encountered even more difficulty in gaining admittance to the bishop, but he persisted, and when he was finally ushered in and opened up his tilma to the cascade of unseasonable flowers he was surprised to watch the prelate fall to his knees.

Image’s power

The roses alone were not what had astonished the bishop. Juan Diego soon discovered that Our Lady had provided an even more marvelous sign. It was a portrait of her as he had seen her, an image that has become the most powerful and beloved likeness of the Virgin in all of human history.

She had dark skin and hair like the native peoples who were soon attracted to her image and persuaded by what they saw. Though she would seem to be a goddess, wearing a cloak of stars and blocking the sun’s rays while standing on the moon held aloft by an attendant angel, her head was bowed in humility. Something greater was coming through her. Beneath her folded hands a maternity sash was tied. She was pregnant. A new beginning was about to unfold.

A shrine was immediately built on Tepeyac where Juan Diego spent the rest of his days as caretaker and guardian of the indelible portrait. The power of that image soon became evident. In the next decade between 8 million and 10 million natives were converted to the faith. Not since apostolic times had so many conversions taken place. The vast number more than made up for the losses suffered in a Europe that was now divided by the Reformation.

Dual meanings

When asked under what name the Virgin had appeared to him, Juan Diego responded with a phrase that seemed to the Spanish chronicler’s ear to sound like “Guadalupe,” the site of a venerated cult of the Virgin back in his native country. But some scholars believe that Juan Diego was actually saying in his native tongue a phrase that phonetically sounds like Guadalupe but actually means one “who treads upon the serpent.” Since the serpent god had been the very foundation of the Aztec religion that demanded human sacrifice atop stone pyramids erected in his honor, Our Lady’s description of herself in his native tongue has a more profound meaning. It was she who would overcome the serpent by bringing forth the one true God whose own sacrifice would take place in the ritual of the Mass celebrated in churches built atop the ruins of the pagan temples. The dual meanings in the word Guadalupe in effect united two peoples, the Spaniard and the native, forging a new culture whose identity is forever marked by this miraculous image.

The tilma should have disintegrated long ago, but it remains intact. Centuries of veneration, of touching, of kissing, of candle smoke and incense have not dulled its color. It has survived the ravages of flood, plague, fire and even an exploding bomb planted underneath it by agents of an anti-clerical and Masonic government. It has been the source of numerous miracles, the cause of much healing and a consolation to multitudes. Millions of pilgrims visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year.

Painted copies of the tilma have been reverently produced over the centuries. New versions were customarily touched to the original in order to transmit its miraculous properties. This derivative copy has the Virgin crowned and flanked by angels. Four cartouches in the corners of the painting recount the apparitions made to the sainted Juan Diego and his presentation to the bishop. And at the bottom the artist has included an image of the shrine that was built at Tepeyac.

When such a copy was presented to Pope Benedict XIV in 1754, he wept and uttered words derived from Psalm 147 that underscore the divine gift that has become the glory of Mexico: “He has not dealt in like manner with any other nation.”
Queen of all America

Venerations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day is Dec. 12, is not limited to Catholics of Hispanic heritage. Indeed, she is the patroness of all America — North, Central and South — as Pope Pius XII designated in 1945.

In the 1999 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II stressed the Blessed Mother’s important role in spreading the message of her son throughout the land:

“The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization. Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole continent. America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, ‘in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization’ ” (No. 11).

Father Michael Morris writes from California.- This article originally appeared in OSV Newsweekly.


Most of your Christmas shopping is done but you still need one special gift! Well, look no further – Pope Francis can help you!

Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for Latin America at 6 pm tomorrow in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis visited her shrine in Mexico in February 2016, praying before the tilma and Mary’s image for about 20 minutes. He started the tradition of a December 12 Mass for Latin America in 2014. While many people know the story of Our Lady and Juan Diego, here’s a reminder from Vatican Media.


December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We take a look at the story behind the indigenous peasant who came across the Patron of the Americas, and how he fought for her message to be heard.
By Francesca Merlo

The Virgin of Guadalupe, like the shroud of Turin, appears on a piece of fabric. Both are sacred objects, hundreds of years old, and both depict an image said to be miraculous. The Virgin of Guadalupe was declared Queen of Mexico and is Patron of the Americas.

First apparition
Our Lady of Guadalupe first introduced herself as the Mother of God and the mother of all humanity when she appeared on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico in 1531. An indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, saw a glowing figure on the hill. After she had identified herself to him, Our Lady asked that Juan build her a shrine in that same spot, in order for her to show and share her love and compassion with all those who believe.

Afterwards, Juan Diego visited Juan de Zumárraga, who was Archbishop of what is now Mexico City. Zumárraga dismissed him in disbelief and asked that the future Saint provide proof of his story and proof of the Lady’s identity.

Juan Diego returned to the hill and encountered Our Lady again. The Virgin told him to climb to the top of the hill and pick some flowers to present to the Archbishop.

Winter bloom
Although it was winter and nothing should have been in bloom, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers of a type he had never seen before. The Virgin bundled the flowers into Juan’s cloak, known as a tilma. When Juan Diego presented the tilma of exotic flowers to Zumárraga, the flowers fell out and he recognised them as Castilian roses, which are not found in Mexico.

What was even more significant, however, was that the tilma had been miraculously imprinted with a colorful image of the Virgin herself.

This actual tilma, preserved since that date and showing the familiar image of the Virgin Mary with her head bowed and hands together in prayer, represents the Virgin of Guadalupe. It remains perhaps the most sacred object in all of Mexico.

The story is best known from a manuscript written in the Aztec’s native language Nahuatl by the scholar Antonio Valeriano. It was written sometime after 1556.

Over 20 million people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year, now situated on the very same hill on which she appeared.

In 1990, Pope Saint John Paul II visited Mexico and beatified Juan Diego. 10 years later, in the year 2000, he was declared a Saint.