For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”
Juan Diego, whose feast we celebrate today, belonged to the Aztec people. Born in what is today part of Mexico City, Mexico, in 1474, Juan was baptized when he was around 50 years old by one of the first Franciscan missionaries to the area. He was a devout convert. The first Catholic saint indigenous to the Americas, Pope St. John Paul II canonized Juan Diego at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City July 31, 2002. It seems fitting that his feast follows right after that of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception because Juan was a missionary of Mary. He cooperated as she did in God’s saving plan. This is something we are all called to do.
Mary first appeared to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill, just outside of Mexico City, as he was on his way to Mass. Mary spoke to Juan in his native tongue and asked him to go to the Bishop and instruct him to build a shrine to her there. She wanted any of her children in need to have a place where they could go and know that she was close to them. Juan Diego did as he was told. The Bishop said he needed some time to think about the request and sent Juan away. On his way home, the Blessed Mother again appeared to Juan, and he told her he had failed to convince the Bishop. He also said that he was a simple man. He politely suggested that she might be successful if she sent someone more important to talk to the Bishop. But, according to tradition, Mary replied, “Listen, least of my sons. You must try to understand that I have many messengers and servants whom I could charge with the delivery of my message… But it is altogether necessary that you, yourself, should undertake this entreaty and that through your own mediation and assistance, my purpose should be accomplished.”
Juan obeyed the Blessed Virgin and returned to the Bishop the next day, but the Bishop asked for a sign. Mary said she would provide a sign the day after that. Unfortunately, Juan’s uncle became mortally ill and wanted a priest to hear his confession and minister to him. So, Juan avoided Tepeyac Hill so that he would not be delayed on his way to get a priest. But on a different route, the Virgin appeared to Juan, and chided him as a mother might, assuring him that his uncle was better. She told him to pick roses from the rocky hillside, flowers that could not have normally grown there. He put them in his tilma or cloak and Our Lady arranged them. Then Juan went to see the Bishop, opened his tilma and the beautiful roses fell to the floor while an image of Mary appeared on the tilma. The Bishop believed and did as instructed. When Juan returned home, he found his uncle cured. His uncle said Mary had appeared to him as well and told Juan to tell the Bishop that she wanted to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan Diego, trusting and obedient, did as he was asked.
Since he loved the Virgin Mary so much, Juan, who was by that time a widower, asked to live in a little hut next to the Church. There he lived until he died seventeen years after the apparitions. There he cared for pilgrims who came to honor their Blessed Mother. Today visitors can see the tilma with the image of Our Lady on it. Many miracles occurred. More importantly, many came to believe in Jesus because of St. Juan Diego’s willingness to be a missionary for Mary.
St. Juan Diego is today’s Ornament of Grace.
OBSERVING THE BEAUTIFUL ORNAMENTS
- How can you realize your call to be a missionary even within your own home, place of work, city or parish?
- What makes it possible for anyone, even a humble and simple person, to join in God’s great work of salvation?