Contrary to what some dime-store theologian disguised as a pastoral associate is telling your children in Catholic school right about now, the customs of the indigenous peoples' in Central and South America were not suppressed by their Catholic conquerors. In fact, the natives were all too happy to have been relieved of being victims of human sacrifices, where their hearts were cut out while they were still alive, so much so as to have participated in what may have been the largest single mass conversion in Christendom.
Furthermore, and on a lighter note, when Juan Diego opened his cloak for the bishop, and the venerable image appeared, the roses hidden in the cloak came falling out. But that's not the whole story of the miracle. Years earlier, seeing that Cortez's successors were not nearly as benevolent as he, the bishop found himself powerless to enact reforms, and appealed to Our Lady for a sign of her intercession, in the form of roses from his Spanish home province of Castile. And so, the bishop recognized the roses as being of a variety only found in … you guessed it, he got the message.
Mind you, this was in the days before overnight delivery.
Music video by The Killers performing ¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe! Copyright 2009 The Island Def Jam Music Group. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)
A few years ago, an American publisher of liturgical aids featured a tribute to this vision, starting out with some drivel about the Spaniards and their suppression of the venerable Aztec folkways.* Several years ago, Father William Saunders gave a fuller account of the real deal in the Arlington Catholic Herald. I don't have the link, or the date of the piece, but I managed to preserve a few extracts:
The Aztec religious practices, which included human sacrifice, play an interesting and integral role in this story. Every major Aztec city had a temple pyramid, about 100 feet high, on top of which was erected an altar. Upon this altar, the Aztec priests offered human sacrifice to their god Huitzilopochtli, called the "Lover of Hearts and Drinker of Blood," by cutting out the beating hearts of their victims, usually adult men but often children. The priests held the beating hearts high for all to see, drank the blood, kicked the lifeless bodies down the pyramid stairs, and later severed the limbs and ate the flesh. Considering that the Aztecs controlled 371 towns and the law required 1,000 human sacrifices for each town with a temple pyramid, over 50,000 human beings were sacrificed each year. Moreover, the early Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children fell victim to this bloodthirsty religion.
In 1487, when Juan Diego was just 13 years old, he would have witnessed the most horrible event: Tlacaellel, the 89-year-old Aztec ruler, dedicated the new temple pyramid of the sun, dedicated to the two chief gods of the Aztec pantheon — Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, (the god of hell and darkness) — in the center of Tenochtitlan (later Mexico City). The temple pyramid was 100 feet high with 114 steps to reach the top. More than 80,000 men were sacrificed over a period of four days and four nights. One can only imagine the flow of blood and the piles of bodies from this dedication ...
Nevertheless, in 1520, Hernan Cortes outlawed human sacrifice ...
When you look at it that way, giving up meat on Fridays doesn't seem so bad. Even so, the aforementioned process only took about fifteen seconds for each victim -- less time than your average abortion. (If you have to think about the connection, I can't help you.)
And then there are those feminist-theology types who try to see a "goddess" image in the Virgin Mary. They're outa luck there too:
These are also symbols of divine victory over the pagan religion. Sun rays were symbolic of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtle. Therefore, our Blessed Mother, standing before the rays, shows that she proclaims the true God who is greater than Huitzilopochtle and who eclipses his power.
She stands also on the moon. The moon represented night and darkness, and was associated with the god Tezcatlipoca. Here again, the Blessed Mother’s standing on the moon indicates divine triumph over evil.
Note also, that in her dominance over false idols, Our Lady stands in a submissive posture, with head bowed and hands folded, as if to render tribute to an even Higher Power.
More on this feast can be found here.
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FOOTNOTE: That commercial opportunists from Spain might have taken undue advantage of a massive cheap labor pool is not in dispute here. Nor is it unique to human history, never mind to Europeans. What it is, is another story for another day ...