In April of 1990 Juan Diego was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The following month, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, during his second visit to the shrine, Pope John Paul II performed the beatification ceremony.
On July 2002 he was canonized by the Church, during a ceremony celebrated by John Paul II, again in the Basilica of Guadalupe.
His feast day is December 9.
Juan Diego wasn’t a king. He wasn’t bishop or a missionary or a conquistador. Still, he remains in the hearts and minds of his Mexican people, centuries after his death. Who was Juan Diego? He was a wise and venerable Indian, a tiller of the soil, the Virgin Mary’s messenger and an early evangelizer, who helped shepherd thousands into Christianity. In July of this year, Juan Diego will be canonized in Mexico City, an honor many feel is long overdue.
The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 in Tepeyac, a small hill and former sanctuary to the Aztec goddess Tonanzin. Mary asked Juan to request that the local bishop build a church on that site. Bishop Juan Zumarraga, in disbelief, asked for a heavenly sign. Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego on the top of the hill, which was covered with beautiful flowers blooming out of season. Arranging the cut flowers on his cloak, known as a tilma, Mary sent him on his way. When Juan unfolded his tilma before the bishop, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on it.
Juan Diego’s native name Cuauhtlatoazin (“one who speaks like an eagle”) means one who speaks with great authority. It’s a fitting description. Because of Juan Diego’s evangelization, an estimated nine million Indians converted to the Christianity of La Moreñita (the beloved dark virgin)—Christ now incarnated in the American soul.
Efforts to canonize Juan Diego began in 1984, initiated by Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada of Mexico City. But doubts as to whether Juan Diego actually existed has slowed the process down. Some 20 years ago, a historical commission was assembled. Father Jose Luis Guerrero, an expert on Nahuatl language and culture, aided by Father Eduardo Chavez, a professional historian, concluded that Juan Diego did in fact exist. “No one piece of evidence alone proves Juan Diego’s existence. When the pieces are put together, however, his existence cannot be denied,” Father Chavez says.
Pope John Paul II said of the future saint during a pastoral visit to Mexico in 1990: “Juan Diego represents all the indigenous peoples who accepted the Gospel of Jesus, thanks to the maternal aid of Mary….”
Born: 1474 Tlayacac, Cuauhtitlan (about 15 miles north of modern Mexico City, Mexico) as Cuauhtlatoatzin
Died: May 30, 1548 of natural causes
Beatified: April 9, 1990 by Saint John Paul II at Vatican City; confirmed and ceremony held on May 6, 1990 at Mexico City, Mexico
Canonized: July 31, 2002 at the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico by Saint John Paul II