st.Juan Diego-Aztec Indian who saw one of the few accepted apparitions of the Virgin Mary

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  st.Juan Diego

Feast Day : December 9



Juan Diego was born in 1474 in a Nahua village established in 1168 and conquered in 1467 by the Aztec chief Axayacatl. He was named Cuauhtlatoatzin, meaning “one who talks like an eagle.” He belonged to the largest and lowest-ranking class of the Aztecs, but owned some land, which he farmed and on which he built a small house. He made a living weaving mats and selling produce from his farm. He was married, but had no children. When Cortez conquered the Aztecs in 1521, he brought Catholic Christianity with him. The Aztecs at that time revered Tonantzin (meaning “mother”) as the goddess of earth and corn. They prayed to her at an ancient hilltop shrine, imploring her blessings for themselves and their crops. Franciscan priests, however, told them that their practice had no religious value and was no longer acceptable. Cuauhtlatoatzin converted to Christianity and in 1525 was baptized Juan Diego (a double name); his wife converted also and was baptized María Lucía. Juan Diego had a reserved and mystical character and was very religious. He enjoyed silence and was given to frequent penance. Every Saturday and Sunday he walked the 14 miles from his village to Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City, to attend Mass and receive religious instruction. When María Lucía died in 1529, he went to live with his uncle, Juan Bernardino, in Tolpetlac, which was nine miles from Tenochtitlán. Before dawn on the morning of December 9, 1531, he set off as usual for Tenochtitlán. Day was breaking as he reached the bottom of a hill known as Tepeyacac, on whose summit had once stood the shrine to Tonantzin. Suddenly he heard a beautiful chorus of birdsong and a voice calling to him in Nahuatl. Filled with joy, he went toward the voice, and when he reached the hilltop saw a beautiful dark-skinned woman in Aztec dress, her face and garments radiant like the sun. He knew instantly who she was. He bowed before her, and she asked him where he was going. “My Lady and Child, I have to reach your church in Mexico,” he replied. She then acknowledged herself as the Virgin Mary, and told him that she wished that a church be erected at the spot where she stood. He was to go to the bishop of Mexico, in Tenochtitlán, describe what he had seen and ask for the church to be built. Juan Diego had to wait a long time to see the Franciscan bishop, Father Juan de Zumarraga, who politely heard him out, but said only that he would take the petition under advisement. Juan Diego left, disheartened, and returned to Tepeyacac Hill. There he again found the Virgin and related what had occurred. She told him to return to the bishop the next day and petition anew. Juan Diego agreed to do so, and went home. The next morning, Sunday, he went again to see Father de Zumarraga, who questioned him intently, but, still unbelieving, asked for a sign. Juan Diego returned to the hilltop and again saw the Virgin, who promised she would give him a sign to take to the bishop the next day. He returned home, only to find his uncle gravely ill with the plague. Juan Bernardino asked that a priest be summoned to receive his last confession and confer his last rites. The next morning, therefore, Juan Diego tried to bypass Tepeyacac Hill and go directly to Tenochtitlán. He was in a hurry, and wanted to avoid another encounter with the Virgin, but she appeared before him anyway. He explained about his uncle, but the Virgin told him that he had been cured and not to worry further about him. Relieved, Juan Diego then asked for the sign to take to the bishop. The Virgin instructed him to climb to the top of the hill, where he would find flowers, which he was to cut, gather and bring to her. He ascended to the summit and was astonished to find there many types of Castilian roses blooming on the rocky outcrops. Not only were they of a species unknown in Mexico, they grew at a place where nothing should grow, especially considering that it was December. He placed the roses in his tilma (a type of cloak) and returned to the Virgin. She held the flowers briefly, then replaced them in the tilma, saying that they were the sign he would take to the bishop. When he was again admitted into Father de Zumarraga’s presence, Juan Diego opened his tilma, letting the roses fall to the floor, and was shocked when the bishop dropped to his knees before him. Looking down, Juan Diego himself saw the glowing image of the beautiful dark-skinned woman imprinted on the white cloth inside the tilma. Her hands were clasped, her eyes cast downward, her black hair held back in the Aztec style. The bishop begged his forgiveness, then untied the tilma and carried it to his chapel. He invited Juan Diego to spend the night with him so that in the morning he could show him where the church was to be erected. The next day, after pointing out the spot, Juan Diego excused himself to go home to his uncle. He arrived to find him well and happy. Juan Bernardino then related that he himself had seen the Virgin, and that through her he had understood that Juan Diego had gone once more to Tenochtitlán to see the bishop. Moreover, she had given him his own mission, to instruct that she be called Holy Mary of Guadalupe. It is believed that Our Lady actually used the Nahuatl word coatlexopeuh, pronounced quatlasupe—meaning, “he who crushes the serpent,” referring to the native religion—and that this was translated into Spanish as Guadalupe. In any event, she has come to be called Our Lady of Guadalupe, and is typically depicted with her foot on a snake. At the time of his encounter with Our Lady, Juan Diego was 57, already elderly in a place and time where the life expectancy for men was about 40. The first of several churches on Tepeyacac Hill was completed in 1533 and Father Zumarraga moved Juan Diego’s tilma with the image into it. Juan Diego gave his business and property to his uncle and went to live in a small room attached to the chapel that housed the sacred image. He spent the rest of his life spreading word of the apparitions among the people of the town and died on May 30, 1548, at the age of 74. What is known about Juan Diego and this miracle comes from a document called the Nican Mopohua, written in Nahuatl in the mid-16th century and first published in Spanish in 1649. The image of the Virgin on the tilma remains visible to this day. Investigations were conducted in 1555 and 1723, then again in the early 20th century. No natural explanation for the image has ever been found. In 1921, at the start of the Mexican Civil War, a bomb placed beneath the image exploded, causing great damage to the chapel, but the tilma survived unaffected. Beatified: May 1990 by Pope John Paul II in Mexico City

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