Juan Diego: True or False, Bishop Must Discern


Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga was a Franciscan priest and the bishop of Mexico City in 1531. The Franciscans led the charge of evangelization of the New World. Men who wanted to live their vows in heroic manner joined Francis’ order. Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga was typical in this regard. He came from a regal upbringing, denouncing the trappings of his birthright, to pattern his life more fully on Christ. Ultimately he would be sent to the poorest of the poor, the Nahuatl. The native people were marginalized because of their mixed race status. The Nahuatl were neither educated European Spaniards, nor a people secure in their own culture marked by bloodshed and colonization. Juan Diego was a Cosmic Orphan. Where did he belong? Don Fray Juan and his Franciscan compatriots freely offered their lives and a vision of a true family to Juan Diego and his fellow countrymen.

Don Fray, because of his personal holiness and intellectual acumen, was elevated to the order of bishops and sent to Mexico. The bishop was also at the point of despair fearing the people would never understand this offer of spiritual paternity and celestial love. A better man to discern Juan Diego’s claims could hardly be found for to ask for a temple to be built was highly significant. “The request of a new temple marked the inauguration of a new civilization.”[1] This is not a generic church planting for the indigenous peoples. For the conquered people the request of a church was rich in meaning. It was an honor reserved for the high priest or emperor because it signified the start of a new civilization. Building a new temple is a demarcation in time. Thus, it is especially noteworthy that the request is given to lower caste Indian.

After listening quietly and patiently to Juan Diego’s request through the help of an interpreter, the bishop says in the Aztec language, “I have many pressing matters of state that I must attend to first. If you will return in a few days and repeat all of the details you have so carefully told us, we will think about it. Be patient with us.” [2] The bishop did not believe Juan, as the “hill of Tepeyac was the site of the Aztec corn goddess, Tonantzin”.[3] The bishop thought Juan had mixed up his catechism lessons with his culture beliefs and was dubious of his request.

Second Dialogue

Dejected, Juan Diego returns to the hill and tells the Virgin what happened and begs her to send someone more worthy of an audience with a bishop. Commission someone with eloquence, nobility, and renown he pleads. Echoes of Moses’ anguished dialogue with Yahweh can clearly be heard. The Lady listens with tenderness but firmly responds, “Listen my youngest son, know for sure that I have no lack of servants [and] messengers to whom I can give the task of carrying my breath, my word, so that they carry out my will. But it is necessary that you, personally, go and plead, that by my intercession my wish, my will, becomes a reality. And I beg you, my youngest son, and I strictly order you go again tomorrow to see the bishop. And in my name, make him know, make him hear my wish, my will, so that he will bring into being, build my sacred house that I ask of him. And carefully tell him again how I, personally, the ever Virgin Holy Mary, I who am the Mother of God, send you as my messenger.”[4] The Virgin agreeing with Juan that she could send many others, insists on sending him, a man of humble rank and a trusting spirit.

Juan Diego consents to the Virgin’s request and after the Sunday Services at the Church in Santiago, goes straight to see the bishop. Similar to the first visit, he waits many hours before gaining admittance. The bishop reminds Juan he had asked for many days to review his request, not twenty-four hours. Juan, undeterred, answers the bishop’s questions and begins to think he has convinced him to build the church. Before sending Juan away, the bishop directs Juan to ask ‘this lady’ for some sign to make it clear that she is indeed the Mother of God and she truly wants a church built. Juan replies that he was sure the Lady would be happy to provide a sign. Juan puts our Lady on the hook. His confidence outweighs his pragmatism. “Was there a sign the bishop would like?” he inquires. The bishop prudently demurs, saying it is not his place to demand but would appreciate any sort of sign the Lady should choose. Juan has no worries the Lady will give the requested sign. After Juan leaves, the bishop calls two of his most trusted servants and directs them to follow Juan Diego. A man of prudence and wisdom is trying to discern the truth.

Third Dialogue– One of Gratitude

Juan Diego not realizing he is being followed, quickly runs to Tepeyac Hill. The servants, unable to keep up with the speed of Juan Diego, lose him and return to the bishop accusing Juan Diego of running with the speed of eagle wings. Juan Diego’s native name Cuauhtlatoatzin (talking eagle) and his culture are suspiciously alluded to by the servants’ use of eagle wings. The bishop for his part is in deep prayer trying to sort through this peasant Indian, the Theotokos, conversion, paganism, and his own unworthiness.

After listening to Juan Diego, the Lady thanks him, and says to return tomorrow for the requested sign for Friar Zumarraga. While Juan was visiting the bishop, Juan Bernardino has fallen gravely ill. Juan Bernardino is Juan Diego’s beloved uncle and on the point of death. Instead of returning to the hill as promised, Juan Diego spends the day taking care of his uncle. As death seemed imminent Juan Bernardino begs Juan Diego to bring a priest to hear his confession and receive last rites. Juan Diego sets off quickly and remembering his missed appointment with the Lady, goes a different route around Tepeyac hill hoping to avoid her.

Will the bishop determine Juan Diego’s veracity, will the uncle die, and will the Lady provide a sign?

To be continued …

            [1] Carl Anderson & Eduardo Chavez, Our Lady of Guadalupe (Doubleday: New York) 2009, 9.

            [2] Tomie de Paola, The Lady of Guadalupe (Holiday House: New York) 1980

            [3] Catherine M. Odell, Those Who Saw Her, The Apparitions of Mary, (Our Sunday Visitor: Huntington, IN) 1986

            [4] Anderson & Chavez, 12