On July 31,2002, after almost 500 years and amidst great controversy, Pope John Paul II raised Juan Diego Cuauhtlactoatzin to the honors of the altar at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Controversy surrounding the canonization ranged from a debate whether to depict the new saint as a European or as a Native for the ceremony and festivities, to a debate over the very existence of Juan Diego himself. The public disputes, however, could not quench the great rejoicing in Mexico and the rest of the New World on July 31, when Juan Diego was proclaimed a saint. He is not a saint, however, merely because Our Lady appeared to him; he was raised to the honors of the altar because he lived out the virtues in a heroic way even though we only know of him in relation to his role as the messenger of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Saint Juan Diego
St. Juan Diego can be seen as one of the great evangelizers of the New World. In honoring the requests of the Mother, he obeyed the Son. Indeed, Juan Diego was able to do something that formerly had been impossible – until Our Lady appeared to him. He was able to nurture a marriage between the indigenous cultures of the New World and Spanish Catholicism. This blend of culture and religion survives within the New World to this day, though it is in danger of being left behind as many people who have been Catholic for half a millennium drift away from the faith.
In fact, the "culture of death" with which we struggle today is not unlike the cultural conditions that St. Juan Diego experienced at the time of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Even as the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people in order to appease the sun god, today we struggle with the scourge of abortion. Just as the Aztecs worshipped many gods and not the "True God through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of Heaven and Earth," so too many today worship other "deities" like money, comfort, and fame. But just as St. Juan Diego and the Woman that he proclaimed were the perfect antidotes to these societal poisons in the sixteenth century, so too can they help us through our twenty-first century struggles. A mere nine years after the proclamation of Our Lady's message in 1531, over nine million people were added to the faith - more than were lost in the Protestant Revolution. How many today are in need of conversion on both sides of the ocean?
St. Juan Diego is a great model for the laity who are called to evangelize and sanctify the world. As Pope John Paul II noted at the beatification of Juan Diego on May 6, 1990, "[This beatification] is a strong call to all the lay faithful of the nation to assume all their responsibilities in the transmission of the Gospel message and in the witness of a living and operative faith. I want to call all of the Mexican laity to commit themselves more actively to the re-evangelization of society." Indeed, this call is made not only to the nation of Mexico, but to the faithful of the whole world.
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