Sunday, December 9, 2012

St Juan Diego

Today is the feast of St Juan Diego, the first indigenous American canonized by the Church as a saint. He was born in the late 15th century in in the Aztec Empire, about 14 miles north of Tenochtitlan, the city now known as Mexico City.  At age 47, the Spanish conquered Mexico, and his family housed the first Franciscan friars who established a mission in Mexico City. He was baptized, taking the name Juan Diego, and from at least this point he abstained from sexual relations with his wife (The records talk about being chaste and continent even before baptism, but that doesn't make a whole lotta sense, because after all, he did live in pre-Columbian America). This seems to be a probable cause of why the Blessed Mother appeared to him.

On Saturdays and Sundays, he walked to Mass, and on December 9, 1531, he stopped because he heard birds singing and his name being called from Tepeyac Hill. She spoke to him in his native tongue, and appeared as an Aztec princess and approximately 14 years old. Juan Diego recognized the lady as the Blessed Virgin Mary, who said: 
"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."
She asked him to tell the Bishop that a shrine should be built on that spot, but the bishop doubted Juan Diego, saying that he need a sign. This continued over the next two days, and Juan Diego asked the Virgin to choose someone else, as he was not worthy. The Blessed Mother insisted that he be the messenger however, but he returned home to find his uncle seriously ill. The next morning, he went to find a priest, and the Virgin stopped him on the path, telling him that he needed to climb Tepeyac Hill (he had tried to avoid it) , his uncle was cured and  he needed to gather the flowers on the hill.  They were Castilian roses, which would be a sign for the Bishop who was from Castille; these would not grow in Mexico, much less in winter. Juan Diego raced to the Bishop, who looked not on the flowers, but upon the tilma (a cloak made from cactus fibers) which had an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe impressed upon it. He ordered the chapel to be built on the hill. Juan Diego lived out his days as a hermit taking care of the shrine, and received Communion three times weekly by permission of the Bishop as he had such a deep love for the Eucharist.

Her appearance seemed to be in response to the Protestant Revolt. Even as the Church struggled in Europe, the Blessed Mother would continue to call people to her Son all over the world.

Juan Diego was canonized in 2002, after a long investigation which triumphed over doubts about his historic authenticity. Our Lady of Guadalupe is patroness of the Americas. The tilma is miraculously preserved, image and all, to this day.

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