NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local diocese, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church. This ministry - my "little work" - is strictly a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu.

~ Peter, Ministry Administrator

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Mexico Pilgrimage, April 2023 - Part I: Apparition Shrines

Viva Cristo Rey!  Viva la Virgen Maria!  This author just had the most blessed opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to several holy sites in Mexico (my first trip since the pandemic started in 2020).  In fact, I just returned to Hawaii earlier this afternoon.  Before continuing any further, I want to first give shout-outs to the following:

* The country of Mexico - its scenic beauty; culture (i.e., architecture, art, customs, food, and music); people... all impressed me deeply, adding to the unforgettable experience I had on this trip .

* Our local tour guide, Veronica ("Vero" from the Catholic Pilgrim Office, Inc.- her knowledge of history/culture; warmth and humor; and flexibility in accommodating our requests all contributed positively to our group's overall experience of her country.

Now going back to the topic of this blog - my pilgrimage experiencce - this trip was primarily a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (OLG), which this lay-ministry is named after, given this writer's history of personal devotion to OLG and the many signal graces received from our Heavenly Mother's intercession, under this popular title.  As such, this trip was on my Bucket List for long while now and took on an extra-special personal significance for me.

Our pilgrimage itinerary, however, included other places in Mexico that are known for miraculous sightings and sacred relics of veneration, which I wanted to especially highlight and share my impressions about; smaller shrines that I personally feel are no less holy than OLG and deserve more recognition.  Given the large amount of information I intend to share, I am drafting 3 separate blogs, of which this is Part I, dealing specifically about apparition shrines; Part II will be about holy relics/objects; then a Part III will follow, as a testimony to remarkable graces received from Our Lady on this pilgrimage.  So let's begin...


Most Catholics are already aware of the story of the 1531 apparitions of OLG, so I won't write much about it - those not familiar with the story can click here.

In the centuries following her appearances on Tepeyac Hill, chapels and two grand basilicas were constructed to house the focal point of the OLG Devotion - the Virgin's miraculous image imprinted on St. Juan Diego's Tilma (a cactus fiber cloak).

On the very first day our Hawaii group arrived in Mexico, two of my fellow prayer group members and myself made it a point to visit the shrine although it wasn't in our official schedule... and, as soon as I stepped foot into the shrine plaza, I was immediately struck by the awesome sanctity of the place - it is holy ground!

The basilica complex is HUGE and encompasses a vast plaza on Tepeyac Hill on which sits the modern basilica, steps away from the original, smaller baroque-style basilica, which is still in use.  Smaller chapels also dot the site commemorating St. Juan Diego's hermitage; a well of water discovered on the hill (considered healing); a chapel atop Tepeyac where OLG caused roses to miraculously appear; and other chapels for various purposes.  I had the pleasure of visiting not just the two basilicas but these other chapels, too, during my week-long pilgrimage.

Of course, the center of the entire shrine is the enigmatic Tilma of St. Juan Diego, which is situated behind and above the main altar, in a gold and silver frame, covered by bulletproof glass. OLG's image - a "perpetual apparition" - is magnificent... and radiates a tangible aura of maternal love.  For me, it's as though I came home and there's Mom joyfully awaiting and welcoming me; a sensation of both reverence and comforting familiarity swirled in my heart while tears of joy flowed freely from my eyes.

A couple of pics taken in the Basilica
(I wept tears of joy!)...

A great innovation implemented by the basilica is a conveyor belt behind the sanctuary directly under the miraculous image.  One can stand on this short moving track to get a closer view of the Sacred Tilma, which I estimate to be only about 35 feet above the pilgrims.  One can go on the conveyor belt as often as desired, and I must have done so at least 20 times during the 5 visits I made to the basilica since the crowd moved along quickly.  It wasn't uncommon to see other pilgrims weeping in the Tilma's presence.

The view from the conveyor belt
under the miraculous Tilma.

Now I've been to 11 Marian apparition sites and OLG Basilica ranks among my Top 4 favorites, which include Montichiari-Fontanelle (Rosa Mystica revelations, Italy), Lipa (Mediatrix of All Grace apparitions, Philippines), and Tre Fontane (Virgin of the Revelation apparitions, Italy).  The ground literally emanates divine power and sanctity, and I highly recommend that Catholics (and non-Catholics, too) visit this hallowed shrine at least once in their lifetimes, if at all possible.


This Church-approved apparition is celebrated in Mexico but seems little-known outside of that country, which sort of puzzles me - it's story is an interesting blend of OLG and Lourdes... plus, the Virgin left behind two lasting signs - gifts to us - in the form of a healing spring of water and a remarkable statue that both still exist!   Yet, I've never heard of this place until a few years ago.  To summarize its history - in 1541 (just 10 years after the OLG apparitions), an Aztec convert named Juan Diego Bernardino (no relation to St. Juan Diego of Guadalupe fame), experienced a single apparition of the Virgin Mary in a grove.

A mural at the site of the blessed well
showing Our Lady's appearance in Ocotlan
in 1541.  Note the stone basin under it.

At the time 0f an epidemic that was decimating the local populace, including the seer's family, Juan Diego went to the river to fetch water.  On his way back through a grove of ocote trees, he was surprised by Our Lady's sudden appearance.  In a nutshell, the Virgin led the man to a spring of water where there was none before, and instructed him to have the sick drink the water for healing purposes.  The words she spoke were full of maternal concern:

  “My heart always desires to help those who are suffering.  My heart cannot bear to see so much pain and anguish among people without healing them.  Drink as much water as you desire.  Upon drinking just one drop, the sick will not only be cured, but they will receive perfect health!”

Furthermore, the Blessed Virgin directed Juan to have the Franciscan missionaries return to the site to retrieve a statue of herself that she wanted venerated in their Chapel of San Lorenzo.  She then disappeared.

The visionary wasted no time collecting the spring water and administering it to his sick relatives who all recovered.  He then relayed the Virgin's message to the friars who went with the seer to the site of the visitation.  It was already evening when they arrived with a crowd of onlookers, and the group was greeted by a curious sight - a single ocote tree covered in flames!  Unable locate the statue, the crowd left but returned the following morning to find the tree burnt to a crisp.  In a hallow cavity of its trunk was discovered a large, unscathed, and beautiful statue of the Holy Virgin dressed in regal robes and carrying a scepter.

A mural depicting the miraculous finding
of Our Lady's statue and the statue as
seen today in its place in the basilica.

The statue was reverently carried to the chapel of San Lorenzo where a cathedral later rose to enshrine the miraculous image.  Although it could possibly be a statue carved in Spain, how it got into the burning tree is deemed a mystery.  Favors through the veneration of this particular statue and the use of the water continue be reported up to our present time.  In fact, an Aunt of mine in our group was suffering from chronic knee pain but claims the pain almost immediately dissipated after she rubbed the blessed water on it, making it possible for her to walk with little discomfort!

During our visit to the Basilica of Ocotlan, we had the opportunity to pray before the sacred statue, which is displayed behind and above the main altar in a glass case. We also took a 15 minute walk down a steep road to the Chapel of the Little Well that was constructed over the original spring revealed by the Virgin.  Inside the small hexagonal chapel, along its walls, are several stone fonts with spigots.  The well itself is in the center covered with plexiglass to protect the water source from debris and foreign objects.

The Chapel of the Little Well... the
actual well shown to the right covered
by plexiglass for protection.

Two elderly custodians of the chapel patiently filled our plastic water bottles, which everyone immediately drank with no ill effects.  In fact, the water was cool and tasted very similar to Hawaii's fresh, volcanic rock-filtered water - it was refreshing, especially in the warm climate of Mexico.  We then refilled our bottles to take home before hiking back up to the cathedral.

Again, this is a sacred place I would encourage others to visit should one ever be in Mexico.  It's well-worth the time!


A depiction of the miracle of St. Michael

Just about 10 minutes from Ocotlan is another obscure sacred spot of heavenly visitations, this time from St. Michael the Archangel.  It's also Church-approved and given my devotion to this Archangel, and my membership in the Cohort of St. Michael the Archangel Prayer Group in my parish, this shrine was also personally meaningful to me.

To summarize the history of this place... on April 25, 1631 (nearly 100 years after OLG), in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, the Faithful in Tlaxcala held a procession to invoke Divine Help.  During the event, a 17-year-old local named Diego Lazaro was recipient to an apparition of St. Michael who told him about a spring of water that would alleviate the sickness.  The boy, however, decided to keep quiet for fear of being ridiculed after he realized that he was the only witness to the appearance.

Not long after, the Archangel revisited Diego to admonish him for his lack of obedience and to warn him that, because of it, he would be subjected to the illness; the visionary was soon infected by the smallpox.

The young man's condition worsened to the point of death, when unexpectedly St. Michael reappeared in a brilliant flash of lightning that was seen by his family, causing them to flee.  The Archangel then transported the teen to a nearby locale where a luminous ray from Heaven beamed down on a certain spot marked by a large boulder; St. Michael's subsequent words were powerful:

  "This light that you have seen descend from Heaven is the virtue that God in His Divine Providence gives in this spring for the health and relief of the sick and needy.  Make this known at once to everyone.  That they may believe your testimony, I promise to work a great prodigy through you."

Significantly, Diego also reported that he heard a terrible clamor of storm winds and growls after the light streamed down, which St. Michael explained was the sound of demons being exorcised from the area because of the immense sanctity God was pouring down over the site!

The youth was then returned home completely cured and he immediately went to the Franciscans to report his experience.  They referred him to the local governor but the Spanish official dismissed him.  Undaunted, he led a group of villagers to the site of the boulder shown to him by St. Michael.  All attempts by the people to move the massive rock proved futile until Diego remembered the angel's promise.

Ordering everyone to stand aside, the seer invoked the Archangel and was instantly granted the strength to single-handedly push aside the boulder after which the spring beneath began to flow.  All were then firmly convinced of the truth of Diego's experiences and news slowly spread about the healing waters.

Inside the Santuario de San Miguel
del Milagro in Tlaxcala.

Later in November of the same year, St. Michael appeared for the fourth and final time to Diego Lazaro, to urge him to step up his efforts to make the spring known.  In response, the young man hand-delivered a jug of the miraculous water to the bishop and urged him to spread word of the spring throughout all Mexico, per the Archangel's express command.  Sensing the truth, the bishop had the water dispensed to the sick and, when cures were effected, he authorized an official investigation, which concluded in favor of the apparitions; a chapel was constructed at the site of the spring.

Today, a sanctuary dedicated to the great Archangel stands in this town named after the miracle.  Our group visited the shrine on the day prior to the festival commemorating St. Michael's first appearance to Diego.  I found the place to be highly edifying and was profoundly moved as I prayed in front of the small chapel of the holy well and in the main sanctuary.  We were also provided with blessed spring water by the custodians of the shrine.

At the altar of St. Michael's
Sanctuary, Tlaxcala

As with the two Marian shrines I visited, I felt the holiness of the site, particularly the distinct presence of St. Michael.  This is another place I recommend to readers to visit, if one is ever in Mexico.  In fact, kill two birds with one stone - go to both Ocotlan and to San Miguel del Milagro!  You won't regret it.

One last thing - at every shrine we visited there was the hustle and bustle of street vendors outside the shrine complex.  Some may find this annoying but I actually didn't mind because they do serve a practical and valid purpose - they help the locals to make an honest living for themselves and are convenient places to purchase devotional items and other souvenirs.  Plus, they were generally much cheaper than the official shops within the shrine complexes.  I'm all for supporting the local indiginous community.

With the above being shared, I close Part I of my 3-part Mexican Pilgrimage Blogs - click on the link below to read Part II about certain relics I saw/venerated in Mexico.

* * To view Mexico Pilgrimage, April 2023 - Part II (Relics), click here

* * To view Mexico Pilgrimage, April 2023 - Part III (Signs), click here

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