Saint Juan Diego – The First Native Lay Minister in the Americas

On July 31, 2002, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Pope John Paul II declared Juan Diego’s canonization. Juan Diego, a poor Indian peasant and widower, became the Church’s first saint indigenous to the Americas. The Holy Father called this saint “a simple, humble Indian” who accepted Christianity without giving up his identity as an Indian. Members of Mexico’s 64 indigenous groups were present.

The Virgin Mary first appeared to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill on December 9, 1531. The most famous part of this story centers on beautiful “winter time” roses gathered in his tilma (outer cloak) that were transformed miraculously into an image of Our Lady. Later in life, Juan Diego lived near the small shrine that had been constructed at Tepeyac. Stories refer to him as a holy, compassionate, and giving catechist who taught by word and especially by example.

Reflection: God called St. Juan Diego to play a key, evangelizing role in spreading the Good News to the people of Mexico. Overcoming his own fear and the doubts, by God’s grace, this small and humble Indio showed that the Good News of Jesus is a gift given to all people, in all cultures. Pope John Paul II used the example of St. Juan Diego to urge Mexican lay men and women to accept their responsibility for doing the New Evangelization and witnessing to the Gospel of Christ.

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