(Editor’s note: Joseph is the first-place winner of Saratoga Central Catholic School’s annual St. Francis de Sales writing contest. Juniors and seniors had to write an essay on which Marian apparition was their favorite and why. The two winning essays will also be published at http://catholicmom.com.)

An apparition is commonly defined as a ghost or ghostlike image or person, an appearance that seems almost unworldly. In the Catholic Church, it is described as an appearance of something remarkable or life-changing, comparable to a miracle.

Marian apparitions are described as supernatural appearances by the Blessed Virgin Mary, and are commonly named after the town where the event occurred: Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Walsingham and many more. Apparitions tend to appear only to one person or a select few, although there have been reports of thousands claiming to have witnessed the same apparition.

I view this type of miracle as a form of divine intervention that carries a message to God’s people and results in a change in an increase of the overall faith.

My favorite apparition is Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 AD.

The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego four times. The first time was on a hill known as Tepeyac in current-day Mexico City. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw the figure of a woman standing in the midst of a cloud. She was draped in traditional Aztec apparel and resembled an Aztec princess.

The Virgin Mary said, “Know and understand well, you the most humble of my son, that I am the ever-virgin Holy Mary, mother of the true God for whom we live, of the creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the Earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows.”

She ordered Juan to go to Franciscan Bishop Juan de Zumarraga and tell him that he has been selected to construct this church. Juan returned sorrowfully, as the bishop ignored his message. The Virgin Mary sent Juan out again, but he was turned back after the bishop demanded to be shown a sign that the news he brought was indeed true.

Juan returned to Mary, who said she would give him a sign. The next day, Mary appeared a fourth time. Juan’s uncle had become sick; Mary healed his uncle just before telling Juan to climb the hill once more. At the top were roses that were growing in the middle of the winter. Juan cut them and placed them in his tilma (cloak).

When Juan arrived at the bishop’s palace, he opened his tilma, allowing the roses to fall to the floor. The bishop dropped to his knees when he saw an image of the Virgin Mary that was left on the tilma, apologized for doubting her and took the cloth to be placed in his chapel.

The bishop then accepted the mission of building the temple at Tepeyac, which is named Guadalupe. To this day, the cloth that bears the picture of Mary. Science says the cloth should have started to deteriorate after 20 years, but is still in the same condition 487 years later, defying all explanations.

This account of Our Lady of Guadalupe is my favorite account of all the Marian apparitions. To me, it is extremely symbolic and connects to my personal experiences. The Virgin Mary appears to Juan Diego out of nowhere and without any previous warnings or signs. This is symbolic of how Mary and God are always with us and can intervene in our lives at the most unexpected times, whether we are ready or not, and it is up to us to answer that call.

Juan listens to Mary’s demands and goes off to spread her word and, even though he is rejected, he still returns to her. At some point, Juan feels as if he has failed and even goes as far as to avoid her when all hope seems to be lost.

The Virgin Mary still finds a way to intervene and put Juan on the right path. She helps him overcome the sickness of his uncle to fulfill what God planned for him. I feel that this is an extremely important aspect of the account: Even when things get tough and seem to not have an end in sight, God is always with us.

I’m someone who has had to deal with burdens, both mental and physical, some of which frequently suppress my hope that things will get better. I find myself doubting what I believe in — but, time and time again, I’m always able to reach out to God and ask for help.

Our Lady of Guadalupe acts as a symbol of how, if we accept God’s call and direction, it can bring us peace in our lives. The picture of the apparition is a symbol of God’s everlasting love and how He is always with us on this Earth, willing to help and guide, just like Our Lady of Guadalupe did for Juan Diego.