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Saint Of The Day For December 9: Saint Juan Diego

The narrative of the Guadalupe apparitions is compelling. The protagonist is an unknown Mexican Indian, Juan Diego, who in the mid-1500s encounters the Virgin on a hill, a place that will become a centre of worldwide Marian pilgrimage over the centuries.

Juan Diego’s Story

A stony ground where even grass struggles to grow.

This is what a 57-year-old Indian is crossing at dawn on 9 December 1531.

Since he was baptised a few years earlier he is called Juan Diego, but his original name is ‘Cuauahtlatoatzin’, which in Aztec means ‘he who cries like an eagle’.

The man, a peasant, is going from his village to Mexico City because it is Saturday and that is the day the Spanish missionaries dedicate to catechesis.

Reaching the base of the Teyepac hill, Juan Diego is attracted by a strange thing.

A bird song he has never heard before.

Then silence and a soft voice calling him: “Juantzin, Juan Diegotzin”.

The man climbs to the top of the hill and finds himself before a young woman in a dress that shines like the sun.

He kneels before her in amazement and listens to her introduce herself: I am “the Perfect Ever Virgin Mary, the Mother of the true and only God”.

A sign to believe

The Lady entrusts Juan Diego with a task.

To tell the bishop what has happened to him so that a Marian temple can be built at the base of the hill.

Telling the incredible is not easy and in fact the bishop, Mgr Zumarraga, does not believe a word.

In the evening, on the hill, the account of the failure does not put the Lady off, who invites Juan Diego to try again the next day.

This time the bishop asks a few more questions about the apparition but remains sceptical.

The Indian must bring him a sign, he says, or the thing remains a fairy tale.

The peasant returns the request to the Lady, who agrees to give him a sign for the next day.

Here the unexpected happens.

The farmer learns that a sick uncle of his is now dying.

After a night of suffering, the urgency becomes to find a priest, so on the morning of the 12th Juan Diego sets off and, at the height of Teyepac, changes route to avoid another face-to-face with the Lady.

The prodigy of the tilma of Juan Diego

The move is futile.

The Lady is in front of him again, asking him why he is in such a hurry.

Embarrassed, the peasant throws himself to the ground invoking forgiveness and explaining everything.

The Lady reassures him.

His uncle is already healed, she says, rather she invites Juan Diego to climb the hill to pick some flowers to take to the bishop.

Beautiful ‘flowers of Castile’ have sprouted among the stones, something impossible in the middle of December.

The Indian takes some and wraps them in the tilma, the rough cloth cloak he wears, then goes to Mexico City.

After a long antechamber, he is introduced by the bishop.

Juan Diego recounts the new facts and then unrolls the cloak in front of those present.

At the same moment, the image of the Virgin is produced on the tilma, the icon destined to become famous and venerated everywhere.

Juan Diego, The guardian of the Virgen

The road, from there on, is downhill.

The bishop is accompanied to the site of the apparitions, then gets the work started and by 26 December the first chapel is ready next to the hill of the miracle.

Juan Diego, who had been a widower for a few years, asked and obtained accommodation in a small house next to the chapel.

For another 17 years, until 1548, he will remain the faithful guardian of the Lady, the Virgen morenita.

John Paul II proclaimed Juan Diego a saint on 31 July 2002.

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