St. Juan Diego: Hero of Humility
Today is the optional memorial of St. Juan Diego. Juan Diego was born in 1474 with the name “Cuauhtlatoatzin” (“the talking eagle”) in Cuauhtitlan, which was located in what now is part of Mexico City. He was a member of the macehualli, or “poor Indian” class, the lowest (just above slave status) and largest group in the Aztec Empire.
As an adult, he lived a simple life, farming the fields and weaving mats. He owned a piece of land with a small house on it. He and his wife were happily married but had no children. Around 1525, both converted and were baptized. At that time, he received the Christian name of Juan Diego and his wife received the name of Maria Lucia. After his wife’s death in 1529, Juan Diego withdrew to Tolpetlac, to the home of his uncle, Juan Bernardino, who had also become a Christian.
On December 9, 1531, as was his custom every Saturday, he left before dawn, to walk to the Mass celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin, at the Franciscan church, near Mexico City. He walked past Tepeyac Hill. Unexpectedly, he heard the exquisite sound of a multitude of extraordinary singing birds.
Raising his eyes to the top of the hill, he saw a radiant cloud encircled by a rainbow. Then, the singing stopped and a woman’s voice gently called out to him, “Juanito, Juan Dieguito,” (“the most humble of my sons”). He quickly climbed the hill and found himself in the presence of a beautiful young woman dressed like an Aztec princess, whose garments shone brilliantly like the sun.
Speaking to him in Nahuatl, his native language, she said to him, “Juanito, my son, where are you going?”—”Noble Lady, my Queen, I am going to the Mass in Mexico City to hear the divine things that the priest teaches us there.”—”I want you to know for certain, my dear son, that I am the perfect and always Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God from whom all life comes, the Lord of all things, Creator of Heaven and Earth. I greatly desire that a church be built in my honor, in which I will show my love, compassion, and protection. I am your Mother full of mercy and love for you and all those who love me, trust in me, and have recourse to me. I will hear their complaints and I will comfort their affliction and their sufferings. So that I might show all my love, go now to the bishop in Mexico City and tell him that I am sending you to make known to him the great desire I have to see a church dedicated to me built here.”
The bishop was kind but skeptical. He asked Juan to bring proof of the Lady’s identity. Before Juan could return to the Lady, he discovered that his uncle was dying. Hurrying to get a priest, Juan missed his meeting with the Lady. The Lady, however, met him on his path and told him that his uncle had been cured.
On December 12, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. Here, the Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and although it was winter time, he was shocked to find roses blooming. He gathered the roses and took them to Our Lady who carefully placed them in his mantle and told him to take them to the Bishop as “proof”. When he opened his mantle, the flowers (Castilian roses, which were not grown in Mexico) fell to the ground and there remained imprinted, in place of the flowers, an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac.
With the Bishop’s permission, Juan Diego lived the rest of his life as a hermit in a small hut near the chapel where the miraculous image was placed for veneration. Here he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to pray to the Mother of Jesus.
Soon after, a church was built on the site where our Lady appeared, and thousands converted to Christianity. Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared the patroness of the Americas.
Juan Diego died on May 30, 1548, at the age of 74, and was buried in the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. He was beatified on May 6, 1990 by Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Guadalupe, Mexico City and canonized By Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002.
Comments of Pope John Paul II during St. Juan Diego’s canonization, July 31, 2002
Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith nourished by catechesis and presented 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 for all of us.
“In this new saint you have a marvelous example of a just and upright man, a loyal son of the Church, docile to his Pastors, who deeply loved the Virgin and was a faithful disciple of Jesus. May he be a model for you.” ~Pope St. John Paul II
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.