“I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf.”
These were the words of Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant who lived in obscurity as a farmer and weaver. Born a pagan whose Mexican name meant “Talking Eagle,” he was converted to Christianity in 1524 by Franciscan missionaries who baptized him and his wife, Maria Lucia. Maria died several years later, but Juan Diego continued in his new-found faith and walked to Church each Saturday and Sunday.
On one such day, December 9, 1531, he was walking past Tepeyac hill when he heard the beautiful sound of singing birds. When the music stopped Juan heard his name being called, and when he climbed the hill he saw a shining young woman who appeared to be dressed as an Aztec princess. She gently called him over and told him that she was “the Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the true God for Whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and earth.” She asked that he approach the bishop and request a temple to be built on the spot where she had appeared, “so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help and protection, because I am your merciful mother.”
Juan Diego, no doubt still in disbelief himself, ran to Bishop Zumárraga and told him what he had experienced. The bishop was not convinced this was a true apparition and asked Juan Diego for a sign. Juan dutifully returned to Tepeyac hill and Mary promised him a sign on the following day. But Juan had a very ill uncle at home, and when his uncle requested a priest to visit the next day Juan Diego went by a different route to the city. He was not able to outdo Providence, however, because Our Lady appeared to him on the way and calmed his fears about his sick uncle, assuring him that he would be cured. She then instructed Juan to climb the hill again and gather the roses which he would find growing there as a sign for the bishop. In spite of his doubts at finding roses in winter, Juan humbly obeyed and was amazed to discover beautiful Spanish roses growing amidst the brush. He hurriedly gathered some up and wrapped them in his tilma, a coarsely woven cloak. When he arrived at the bishop’s residence he opened his tilma before him, and the roses fell at his feet, revealing a beautiful image of the Blessed Virgin Mary inside, now known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
When Bishop Zumárraga saw the image, he fell to his knees in wonder. He then ordered a shrine for the Virgin Mary to be built on Tepeyac, and in the next seven years eight million Mexican people were baptized. Juan Diego lived out the rest of his life near the chapel, being its caretaker and quietly adoring God. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002.
Saints and our lives
St. Juan Diego may have worked his farm and wove his own garments, but humility was the cloak which suited him the most. Wrapped in its graces he was able to turn from his pagan roots and listen with his heart to the truth of the Gospel message which the Franciscans brought with them. When the Blessed Mother appeared to him, in his simple obedience Juan Diego was not afraid to approach Bishop Zumárraga. He believed the apparition to be from God, and this gave him the courage to act. How open are we to listen to others who may be bringing the word of God to us? Can we admit that we do not have all the answers and keep an open mind as to how Christ may be approaching us? God speaks to us in so many ways if we only “have ears to hear.”
“O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee.” (Psalm 63:1) Juan Diego was up before the break of dawn to start the journey to Mass. He walked several miles in order to be able to meet his Savior in prayer and the Eucharist. How can we start our days with God? To wake early and begin with prayer and meditation will help us to be closer to Christ and bring a divine order to our day.
Taken from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: St. Juan Diego” produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization. For the complete pamphlet, visit the Office of New Evangelization at www.drvc.org.