When I was a Deacon and still in Mexico preparing for my ordination I had the chance to spend a week in the missions. It was during Holy Week of the year 2000 that I first vistited Ocotlán. I was asked to go into a mission region of Ocotlán where there was no priest to help with the Holy Week services! It was a wonderful experience and I met such humble people there of great faith! Here is a very interesting story of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Ocotlán that I heard about when I visited there in 2000. It really is an amazing story and I am surprised that we have heard so little about it! Most of what you read below comes from the Santiago de Compostela website on Catholic devotions:
It was a serene time of day -- late afternoon -- near the Spring of 1541. The sun over the Mexican city of Tlaxcala was bidding farewell to this hilly capital and casting luminescent colors across a diminishing sky. Amid all this natural brilliance, Juan Diego Bernardino -- a poor native Indian -- climbed up the western slope of the hill of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence) and entered into an oak tree forest. In those days the trees ran alongside a cliff.
This tender-hearted soul had just drawn some water for his sick family from the Zahuapan River. His relatives had been one of the many unfortunates stricken by a terrible smallpox epidemic, that was claiming the lives of nine out of ten Tlaxcalans. Many of the villagers believed that water would cut their burning fever or even cure them. They had an extra high regard for the water of the Zahuapan, trusting it to have special medicinal properties for skin diseases.
Prior to embarking on this mission of charity, Juan Diego -- who worked for the Franciscan friars in the convent (monastery) of Tlaxcala -- had obtained their permission to do so. He had taken a water jar, walked down the hill from the monastery, filled up his container, and started walking to Xiloxoxtla, where his family lived.
Suddenly, without warning, an extraordinarily beautiful lady emerged from "out of nowhere" in front of Juan Diego. She wore a white tunic and a blue mantle, and her expression was most kind, attractive, and amiable. Upon appearing, she greeted Juan Diego by saying:
"May God preserve you, my son. Where are you going?"
Juan Diego was so surprised and overwhelmed by the sight of such heavenly goodness and beauty, he could barely speak. Startled and awestruck, he responded, "To carry water from the river to my sick ones, who are dying without remedy."
This answer charmed and pleased the celestial lady. She took delight in Juan Diego's concern, compassion, and ingeniousness, and graciously extended him the following invitation: "Come follow me," she said.
"I will give you another water with which contagion will be extinguished, and not only your relatives will be healed, but whoever drinks of it; because my heart, always favorably disposed to the destitute, can no longer endure seeing such misery without helping them."
Though a frequent journeyer to this area, Juan Diego had never before seen this "healing water" spoken of by this lady. Still, he sprightly followed his lovely benefactress to a ravine on the bottom slope of the hill. Here was a grove where our Lady revealed her fountain of Holy Water.
"Drink of this water as much as you desire, assured that through even the smallest drop, the sick will receive not only relief, but perfect health." A beautiful rendering of Our Lady of Ocotlán revealing the medicinal water to a reverently overjoyed Juan Diego.
"Perfect health?" How wonderful! Juan Diego thought, as he gladly emptied his pitcher of the water from the Zahuapan and refilled it with the marvelous water from this newfound source of medicine.
The beautiful lady had more to reveal. Before she departed and bid Juan Diego to be on his joyful way, she gave him a message to deliver to the Franciscans in the same Tlaxcalan monastery, where he worked. She instructed him:
"Advise the religious, on my behalf, that on this site they will find an image of me, representing my perfections. Through it I will distribute my mercies and clemencies. Once found, I desire that it be placed in the chapel of San Lorenzo."
The First of Many Miracles
With his benefactress' words singing in his heart, Juan Diego raced home to Xiloxoxtla, trusting, overjoyed, and unslowed by the heavy pitcher of water on his shoulders. As soon as he arrived, he attended to his family by giving them drinks of water from the kind lady's well. What followed overwhelmed them all and rapidly caught the attention of the entire village.
Just as the beautiful lady had promised, not only did his family's sufferings lessen, but they were completely taken away. Instantaneously all their pains vanished. The very moment each one drank the holy water, they all regained perfect health.
Beside themselves with joy, Juan Diego and his family quickly went outside to share their good fortune with their neighbors. News of this amazing occurrence swiftly traveled -- through "the native grapevine" of Xiloxoxtla -- along with the knowledge that the recipient of a "message from heaven" was among them.
Before he could retreat to a quiet place, or return to the monastery in Tlaxcala, Juan Diego was besieged with curious, faithful, and needy neighbors. They all wanted to hear for themselves the wonderful story of Zoapiltzin ("The Lady Woman") in the oak tree forest. Where was her miraculous spring? What did she look like? What did she say? Is she coming back again? etc.
While he told and retold the story of the apparition and the miraculous well, he administered the precious liquid to the townsfolk. Everyone who was sick or had a sick relation received a few drops, and unexplainably, just as the Zoapiltzin had assured, everyone who drank the water recovered on the spot.
Night set in on Juan Diego's "heavenly hospital," and before he realized it, it was too late for him to return to the monastery. Eager to fulfill his mission from above, he reluctantly went to sleep in his family's house, but arose with the first rays of dawn. On this morning, it didn't take much to rouse him from bed and speed him on his way. Everyone who drank the water recovered instantly. To read more about this wonderful story and the miraculous events please click here!
I think this story is truly amazing and it is one that most of us have never heard of! I am glad to have had the chance to hear of these miraculous images from my Latin American Salesian friends! Let's pray that as the miracles of our own day continue to unfold we might give them the attention they deserve!