Since the beginning of May, a replica of Juan Diego’s tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been traveling around the Archdiocese of Washington, spreading her message from country parishes in southern Maryland to city parishes in the middle of D.C.

The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe took place in 1531, when the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor peasant named Juan Diego and asked him to tell the bishop to build her a temple. When the bishop did not believe his story, the Virgin Mary sent Juan Diego roses at a place where they usually did not bloom. He gathered them into his cloak, or “tilma,”and brought them to the bishop as a sign of the Virgin Mary’s apparition. As the roses fell before the bishop, an image of the Virgin Mary appeared miraculously on the tilma.

This replica of the tilma was gifted to the archdiocese by the Convent of the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament in the City of Morelia in Michoacán, Mexico, and was used during the archdiocese’s annual “Walk with Mary” pilgrimage in December 2016.

Noting the tilma’s beauty, Javier Bustamante, executive director of cultural diversity and outreach for the archdiocese, said, “There’s really no way we can keep it in a closet for 11 months and take it out once a year.”

In allowing parishes to sign up to host the tilma for about a week, Bustamante hopes people of all backgrounds will be able to reflect upon Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the Americas.

“One of the realities right now, particularly in the immigrant community, there’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety,” said Bustamante, adding that Our Lady of Guadalupe is “a very comforting image of Mary.”

When she appeared to Juan Diego, she spoke to him in his native language, saying, “don’t let anything disturb you, you are under my protection.”

“The message we want to bring, especially to migrant communities, is to feel the closeness to realize they are not alone, the Church accompanies them through Mary,” said Bustamante.

In addition, Bustamante hopes people will learn from Our Lady’s message of welcoming and openness to the stranger.

“Mary begins the encounter by saying ‘yes’ to the person,” he explained. “She is totally immersed in the culture of Juan Diego. … She said ‘yes’ to his language, ‘yes’ to his culture, and ‘yes’ to his humanity.”

The Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach has put together resources to assist parishes in holding prayer services while the tilma is in their church, but Bustamante said, “Mary will do what Mary will do,” and that she will do different things in each place depending on what the community needs.

St. Anthony of Padua Parish in North Beach hosted the tilma from July 11-17, and on the last evening they held a prayer service that included Eucharistic Adoration and praying the luminous mysteries of the rosary.

Deacon Ed Baker, who led the prayer service, found it particularly special that they were hosting the tilma, because he and his wife will be traveling to Mexico to see the real image in early August. The two are doing a 33-day consecration to Mary, which they were able to start when the replica tilma was at their parish, and will end while they pray before the real tilma in Mexico. Through this consecration, Deacon Baker said they are giving their “body, soul, mind, works, and merits” to Mary, telling her “you can do with it whatever you want.”

“Both of us felt we wanted to have a much deeper relationship with Mary so she would lead us closer to Jesus,” Deacon Baker said.

Gail Carroll, a parishioner of St. Anthony, is also doing the 33-day consecration, and said she has always had a strong devotion to Mary.

“She hears your prayers when you’re in need…you’re taken care of,” said Carroll, who also mentioned that by praying to the Blessed Mother, she allows her to direct her prayers to wherever they need to go.

At the conclusion of the parish’s July 17 prayer service, some parishioners walked forward to the tilma, where people had left small vases of flowers. They stood around gazing at the image, with some people going closer to inspect the details and touch their rosaries to it.

Debbie and Bruno Porfiri brought eight of their nine children with them to the prayer service, and they all knelt together, taking up nearly a whole pew, praying in front of the Eucharist and the tilma.

“When we see an opportunity like this to venerate a holy image we make the effort to get out there and experience it,” said Bruno Porfiri. “We finished dinner and jumped in the car. The opportunity to see something like this doesn’t come often, especially in a church like ours,” he added, since St. Anthony is a smaller parish on the Chesapeake Bay, about an hour drive from Washington. His son, Antonio, echoed the sentiment that it is nice to be able to have the image so close to home.

Debbie Porfiri explained to her children that the image of Our Lady o Guadalupe on the tilma “is the only painting of [the Blessed Mother] that she painted herself,” since she is the one who placed it there for Juan Diego. Porfiri recalled that her family has a strong devotion to Mary that began on their wedding day, when they presented flowers to Mary and asked her to guide their family.

“We’ve definitely seen the fruit of that devotion,” she said. “The only way we grow closer to the Lord is through her.” The family named their youngest son, two-year-old Mario, after the Blessed Mother, because it was through her intercession that he came into their family, Debbie Porfiri added.

The tilma will continue to travel around the archdiocese to different parishes, and will return to Washington for the Dec. 9 “Walk With Mary,” where people from all around the archdiocese will gather for a pilgrimage in celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day.

“Mary walks to your parish, now she is inviting you to come walk with her,” said Bustamante.

He hopes the walk will bring together people of various cultures, because, “The love of Mary is extended to everyone, especially those who feel most abandoned.”

Parishes can contact

Claudia Bartolini in the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach at

[email protected]

or 301-853-5335

to sign up to host the tilma.

Bustamante hopes this initiative will continue for years to come, so Our Lady of Guadalupe can become “a constant symbol of who we are called to be; a people who looks at the other and says, ‘Yes, yes you are my brother and sister.’”