Nearly five hundred years later, Our Lady of Guadalupe is still drawing men and women of the Americas to Christ, two U.S. Catholic bishops said at the "Ecclesia in America" conference in Rome.

"What has been proposed to us afresh is the image and the presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and her perfectly enculturated presentation of the Gospel in America," Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore told EWTN News Dec. 12.

"It's an amazing story. The more you contemplate the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe the more you see how she speaks to all of America. How she brings Christ to us, and how she brings us to Christ."

The Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated the apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1531 to St. Juan Diego near present-day Mexico City. She told Juan Diego to ask the local bishop to build a church on the site. Later when he asked for a sign, she said his ailing uncle would be cured. She also asked him to gather in his tilma roses and other flowers which had miraculously bloomed.

When he unraveled his tilma before the bishop, it bore a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary in an indigenous style of art. The image helped convert many natives to Christianity.

Archbishop Lori found inspiration in the story.

"All of us who are charged to proclaim the Gospel find ourselves in the position of being Juan Diego, feeling her love, feeling her care, feeling her persistent presence in our lives as we go about the work of the New Evangelization," he said.

The "Ecclesia in America" congress from Dec. 9-12 marks the 15th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on the anniversary of a bishops' synod on the Catholic Church in the Americas. The event has brought to Vatican City over 200 participants, including cardinals from Toronto, Boston, Guadalajara, Santo Domingo and Tegucigalpa; bishops and archbishops; and clergy, vowed religious and lay experts.

The Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus organized the conference with the Mexico City-based Institute of Guadalupan Studies.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver reflected on his own experience of Our Lady of Guadalupe in his Dec. 10 congress presentation "The Encounter with Jesus Through Mary."

"I will never forget the first time that I stood in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1996. As I stood there and gazed at the image I was struck with awe and wonder but I was struck more with the love of Mary, with the fact that the tilma should have been totally destroyed by now, with the fact that she left her image, her image for us and it was still there 500 years later."

He said this image speaks of "the depths of her love for humanity" and of her "maternal love."

"She is with child," he said of the Guadalupe image. "The heart of her maternal message is Jesus and yet she reveals her tender love in her words to Juan Diego as she says, hear and let it penetrate into your heart,  'My dear little son.' And that is the love that Mary has for us."

Archbishop Aquila said the Virgin Mary "desires intimacy with us, just as the Father desires intimacy with us, just as Jesus does." She is "the one who leads us more fully to Jesus."

Archbishop Lori told EWTN News that the conference has been a "beautiful experience," especially when "seen through the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe."

He noted the presence of bishops and vowed religious from all over America, as well as "so many dedicated, faithful laity who are devoting much or all of their time to the Church's mission."