A half-inch piece of cactus cloth in a small glass case has been drawing crowds and creating a sense of awe among American Catholics recently.
The ancient relic is believed to have come from the cloak worn by St. Juan Diego, an Indian peasant who had a vision of the Virgin Mary in Mexico in 1531. A colorful image of the Virgin, which came to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, is said to have miraculously appeared on the cloak afterward.
The scrap of cloth hangs on a silver chain around the neck of a 17th-century statue of Mary. It was on display in Avondale, Pa., the second to last stop in a 21-city tour of the relic.
The tour was organized by the Los Angeles Diocese, which has custody of the relic, to celebrate Juan Diego's canonization last year, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. The rest of the cloak, called the Tilma of Tepeyac, hangs in Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mexico City.
The Archdiocese of Phliadelphia decided to bring the relic to an Avondale church because of the high number of Hispanics in the area. While the relic is very important to Catholics from Mexico, it also seems to be important to non-Hispanics as well. In fact, regardless of their heritage, the relic seems to be leaving those who visit it without words to express their experience.
There are about 149,000 Spanish-speaking Catholics in the greater Philadelphia area.