Thousands of people gathered in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe July 31, 2002, for the
canonization of Juan Diego, to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in the 16th century. Pope John Paul
II celebrated the ceremony at which the poor Indian peasant became the Church’s first saint
indigenous to the Americas.
The Holy Father called the new saint “a simple, humble Indian” who accepted Christianity
without giving up his identity as an Indian. “In praising the Indian Juan Diego, I want to express
to all of you the closeness of the church and the pope, embracing you with love and encouraging you
to overcome with hope the difficult times you are going through,” John Paul said. Among the
thousands present for the event were members of Mexico’s 64 indigenous groups.
Cuauhtlatohuac (“The eagle who speaks”), Juan Diego’s name is forever linked with Our Lady of
Guadalupe because it was to him that she first appeared at Tepeyac hill on December 9, 1531. The
most famous part of his story is told in connection with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
(December 12). After the roses gathered in his tilma were transformed into the miraculous image of
Our Lady of Guadalupe, however, little more is said about Juan Diego.
In time he lived near the
shrine constructed at Tepeyac, revered as a holy, unselfish and compassionate catechist who taught
by word and especially by example.
During his 1990 pastoral visit to Mexico, Pope John Paul II confirmed the
long-standing liturgical cult in honor of Juan Diego, beatifying him. Twelve years later he was
proclaimed a saint.