Canonization for Juan Diego Is Long Overdue
CINCINNATI—Juan Diego wasn’t a king. He wasn’t
bishop or a missionary or a conquistador. Still, he remains in the hearts and
minds of his Mexican people, centuries after his death. Who was Juan Diego?
He was a wise and venerable Indian, a tiller of the soil, the Virgin Mary’s
messenger and an early evangelizer, who helped shepherd thousands into Christianity.
In July of this year, Juan Diego will be canonized in Mexico City, an honor
many feel is long overdue.
The life and legacy of Juan Diego are featured in the
July issue of St. Anthony Messenger. In the article, author Virgilio
P. Elizondo, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and professor at the
Mexican-American Cultural Center, the University of Notre Dame and the University
of Texas (San Antonio), writes of Juan’s legacy. After June 26, the article
will be found at: AmericanCatholic.org.
The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 in Tepeyac,
a small hill and former sanctuary to the Aztec goddess Tonanzin. Mary asked
Juan to request that the local bishop build a church on that site. Bishop Juan
Zumarraga, in disbelief, asked for a heavenly sign. Our Lady appeared to Juan
Diego on the top of the hill, which was covered with beautiful flowers blooming
out of season. Arranging the cut flowers on his cloak, known as a tilma,
Mary sent him on his way. When Juan unfolded his tilma before the bishop, the
image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on it.
Juan Diego’s native name Cuauhtlatoazin (“one
who speaks like an eagle”) means one who speaks with great authority. It’s a
fitting description. Because of Juan Diego’s evangelization, an estimated nine
million Indians converted to the Christianity of La Moreńita (the beloved dark
virgin)—Christ now incarnated in the American soul.
Efforts to canonize Juan Diego began in 1984, initiated
by Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada of Mexico City. But doubts as to whether
Juan Diego actually existed has slowed the process down. Some 20 years ago,
a historical commission was assembled. Father Jose Luis Guerrero, an expert
on Nahuatl language and culture, aided by Father Eduardo Chavez, a professional
historian, concluded that Juan Diego did in fact exist. “No one piece of evidence
alone proves Juan Diego’s existence. When the pieces are put together, however,
his existence cannot be denied,” Father Chavez says.
Pope John Paul II said of the future saint during a
pastoral visit to Mexico in 1990: “Juan Diego represents all the indigenous
peoples who accepted the Gospel of Jesus, thanks to the maternal aid of Mary….”
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