December 09, 2010

⛪ Saint Juan Diego

⛪ Saint of the Day : 09 December

"Singing Eagle" Model of Lay Apostles
The legend of the apparition Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin or Juan Diego has had a significant impact on the spread of the Catholic faith within Mexico. The Roman Catholic Church canonized him in 2002, as its first indigenous American saint.

Juan Diego was born in 1474 in the calpulli of Tlayacac in CuautitlΓ‘n, a small Indian village some 20 km (12mi) to the north of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). Another source indicated that Juan Diego was born on July 12, 1474.

His original or birth name was Cuauhtlatoatzin (alternately rendered as Quauhtatoatzin, Guauhtlatoatzin, or Cuatliztactzin), which has been translated as "Talking Eagle" in the Nahuatl language.

Conversion to Catholicism

A farmer, landowner and weaver of mats, he witnessed the Spanish conquest of Mexico by HernΓ‘n CortΓ©s in 1521, when he was 47 years old. Following the invasion, in 1524, the first 12 Franciscan missionaries arrived in what is now Mexico City.

Cuauhtlatoatzin and his wife welcomed the Franciscans in 1524 or 1525 and were among the first to be baptized — he taking the Christian name of Juan Diego; she, Maria Lucia. Later, they moved to Tolpetlac to be closer to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and the Catholic mission that had been set up by the Franciscan friars.

According to his legend, after hearing a sermon on the virtue of chastity, they reportedly decided to live chaste lives. This decision was later cited as a possible reason for which the Virgin Mary chose to appear to Juan Diego. In 1529, a few years after her baptism, Maria Lucia became sick and died. According to SΓ‘nchez' account Juan Diego and his wife had lived in celibacy for their entire lives; this would be extraordinary since he lived the first 47 years of his life according to pre-Columbian indigenous customs that only prescribed celibacy for the highest priesthood. The Nican Mopohua adds the detail about his celibacy beginning after his first sermon.

Apparition on Tepeyac Hill
As a widower, Juan Diego walked every Saturday and Sunday to church, and on cold mornings, wore a woven cloth called a tilma, or ayate made with coarse fibers from the maguey cactus for cotton was only used by the upper class Aztec.

On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he reported the following: As he was walking to church, he heard the sound of birds singing on Tepeyac hill and someone calling his name. He ran up the hill, and there saw a Lady, about fourteen years of age, resembling an Aztec princess in appearance, and surrounded by light. The Lady spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue. She called him “Xocoyte,” her little son. He responded by calling her “Xocoyote,” his youngest child. The Lady asked Juan Diego to tell the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de ZumΓ‘rraga, that she wanted a “teocalli,” a shrine, to be built on the spot where she stood, in her honor, where:

"I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me , of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes."

Recognizing the Lady as the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego went to the bishop as instructed, but the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de ZumΓ‘rraga was doubtful and told Juan Diego he needed a sign. Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac hill and explained to the Lady that the bishop did not believe him. He implored the Lady to use another messenger, insisting he was not worthy. The Lady however insisted that it was of the utmost importance that it be Diego speaking to the bishop on her behalf. On Sunday, Juan Diego did as the Lady directed, but again the bishop asked for a sign. Later that day, the Lady promised Juan Diego she would give him a sign the following day.

According to the Nican Mopohua, he returned home that night to his uncle Juan Bernardino’s house, and discovered him seriously ill. The next morning, December 12, Juan Diego decided not to meet with the Lady, but to find a priest who could administer the last rites to his dying uncle. When he tried to skirt around Tepeyac hill, the Lady intercepted him, assured him his uncle would not die, and asked him to climb the hill and gather the flowers he found there. It was December, when normally nothing blooms in the cold. There, Diego's miracle of the roses occurred: he found roses from the region of Castille in Spain, former home of bishop ZumΓ‘rraga. The Lady re-arranged the roses carefully inside the folded tilma that Juan Diego wore and told him not to open it before anyone but the bishop. When Juan Diego unfolded his tilma before the Bishop roses cascaded from his tilma, and an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously impressed on the cloth, bringing the bishop to his knees.

According to the Nican Mopohua ZumΓ‘rraga acknowledged the miracle and within two weeks, ordered a shrine to be built where the Virgin Mary had appeared. The bishop then entrusted the image to Juan Diego, who chose to live, until his death at about the age of 73 — on May 30, 1548 — in a small hermitage near the spot where the Virgin Mary had appeared. There he cared for the chapel and the first pilgrims who came to pray there, propagating the account of the apparitions in Mexico.

No records prior to 1648 exist showing that Bishop ZumΓ‘rraga acknowledged the miracle or that he even knew of it.

News of the apparition on Tepayac Hill spread quickly through Mexico; and in the seven years that followed, 1532 through 1538, the Indian people accepted the Spaniards and 8 million people were converted to the Catholic faith.

According to Daniel Lynch, director of the Apostolate of the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “An amazing thing happened. Indians became reconciled to Spaniards. And we had a new race of people. Mixed blood. We called them "Mestizos". Our Lady of Guadalupe had appeared as a Mestiza. They call her the dark virgin, the little brown one.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe, as the Virgin Mary came to be known in this context, still underpins the faith of many Catholics in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and she is recognized as patron saint of all the Americas.

Interestingly, the years 1532 to 1538 which saw a large number of people join the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico based on Juan Diego's vision, were right in the midst of the period of Protestant Reformation in Europe. Hence as a large number of people left the Catholic Church in Europe, a large number of new Catholics appeared in Mexico, maintaining the overall strength of the Catholic Church. To this day, Latin America remains a major pillar of the Catholic Church.

Church investigation
Juan Diego was recognized by the Church soon after the apparition. He expressed a deep love for the Holy Eucharist, and by special permission of the Bishop he received Holy Communion three times a week, a highly unusual occurrence in those times.

In 1666, a Church investigation into the establishment of a feast day produced a document known as the Informaciones JurΓ­dicas de 1666, purporting to gather information from informants who had had some connection with Juan Diego. In 1723 a formal investigation into this life was ordered by Archbishop Lanziego y Equilaz.

On January 9, 1987, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared Juan Diego venerable. Pope John Paul II beatified him on May 6, 1990, during a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, declaring December 9 Juan Diego's feast day 1 day after Immaculate Conception and invoking him as “protector and advocate of the indigenous peoples.”

Controversy over the historical authenticity of Juan Diego was stirred in 1996 by Father Guillermo Schulenburg, a longtime abbot of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who called Juan Diego a mythical character.

The Vatican subsequently established a commission of 30 researchers from various countries to investigate the question. The commission's view was that Juan Diego had indeed existed, and the results of their research were presented to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints on October 28, 1998. Among research documents submitted at that time were 27 Guadalupe Indian documents.

Juan Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002.Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith nourished by catechesis and pictured him (who said to the Blessed Virgin Mary: "I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf") as a model of humility.

By 1820, when the Mexican War of Independence from Spanish colonial rule ended, Our Lady of Guadalupe had come to symbolize the Mexican nation. The armies of both Miguel Hidalgo in 1810 and Emiliano Zapata in 1914 flew Guadalupan flags. The first president of Mexico adopted the name "Guadalupe Victoria" during the fight for independence from Spain. Today, the Virgin of Guadalupe remains a strong national and religious symbol in Mexico.

Many Mexicans also see the canonization of Juan Diego as a symbolic victory in the movement for greater recognition of their heritage reflected in the Catholic religion; Pope John Paul II held a Mass in Mexico that borrowed from Aztec traditions, including a reading from the Bible in Nahuatl. The Pope urged the Catholic Church in Mexico to be respectful of indigenous traditions and to incorporate them into religious ceremonies when appropriate.

The Basilica of Guadalupe

"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; to listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me."

Words of Our Lady to Juan Diego

Built between 1974 and 1976, the new Basilica has a circular floorplan so that the image of the Virgin can be seen from any point within the building. The circular structure is 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter, and can accomodate up to 50,000 people. The choir is located between the altar and the churchgoers to indicate that it, too, is part of the group of the faithful. To the sides are the chapels of the Santisimo and of Saint Joseph. It has 9 chapels on the upper floor. Under the main floor are the Basilica's crypts, with 15,000 niches and 10 chapels. 

I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf.

— St. Juan Diego to the Our Lady of Guadalupe

St. Juan Diego, who describes himself as a “nobody,” a “small rope,” a “tiny ladder,” the “tail end,” a “leaf,” was the instrument Our Lady of Guadalupe chose to join her in one of the greatest moments in evangelization. How do I describe myself? Am I too big to work with Our Lady? How can I exer­cise the virtue of humility to become smaller?


Saint Juan, you now enjoy the beatific vision of God and the company of our beautiful Mother Mary. On this, your feast day, we ask that you and Our Lady of Guadalupe pray for us that we may never fear to boldly proclaim the truth in the hope that if each of us does our part, no matter how small, millions will come to know God.

Prayer to St. Juan Diego

You who were chosen by Our Lady of Guadalupe as an instrument to show your people and the world that the way of Christianity is one of love, compassion, understanding, values, sacrifices, repentance of our sins, appreciation and respect for God’s creation, and most of all one of HUMILITY and obedience. You who we know is now in the Kingdom of the Lord and close to our Mother, be our angel and protect us, stay with us as we struggle in this modern life not knowing most of the time where to set our priorities. Help us to pray to our God to obtain the gifts of the Holy Spirit and use them for the good of humanity and the good of our Church, through the Heart of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Heart of Jesus. Amen.

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