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Saint Juan Diego

Dorothy Day wrote these reflections on the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego after a pilgrimage to the Basilica in Mexico City.

It was in 1531 that Our Lady appeared to the Indian Juan Diego (his Spanish name given him at his baptism.) There were not many Catholics then among the Indians, and the treatment of the Spaniards who had conquered them was not calculated to convert them very fast. If ever the tension which always exists between church and state showed, it did then, between the conquistadores and the padres who came with them to bring the message of the gospel. The conquistadors were hungry for gold and silver which was mined in great abundance. We still saw the mines operating around Guanajuato, and saw too the Indians sieving the soil for gold and silver in the dry river beds on the way to Guanajuato from San Luis Potosi. Much gold was sent back to Spain and the brothers of St. Teresa of Avila sent her gold too to help build her convents. They too were in search of their fortune.

It was under Archbishop Zumarraga that the vision of the Blessed Mother appeared to the poor Indian by the side of the hill of Tepeyac, asking that a shrine, a temple, be built there in her honor. It was as though she were discontented with the way Constantine had brought about the conversion of the pagans of Europe. She was going to bring it about in her own way.

She appeared in the guise of an Indian maiden, young and beautiful, surrounded by rays of gold, clad in a white and gold embroidered dress, covered by a blue star-studded robe, standing on a half- moon, borne aloft by an angel, her hands folded together in prayer. She told Juan that she came because she loved the Indian and wished to protect him. She came as an Indian maiden, as Indian as Katherine Tekakwitha of the Iroquois, and she came to them, not to the Spaniards.

She came as one of the colored peoples of the world, to a colored people and unlike her history in other shrines, she left them a memento of herself. When the archbishop demanded proof that Juan Diego’s story was not just imagination, and he told our Lady, she commanded him to pick some miraculous Castilian roses which bloomed at her word on the barren hill and carry them in his tilma, his cloak, woven of the maguey fiber, and show them to the archbishop. When he did this, and emptied his tilma at the feet of the prelate, the Spaniard fell on his knees before the Indian holding up the tilma, on which had appeared the likeness of our Lady of Guadalupe. This same story is told of Veronica’s veil, on which the face of Christ was imprinted, and our Lady used this precedent to give herself to the Indians, not only of Mexico, but of all the Americas, of our own United States as well as Mexico, Central and South America.

And of all the representations of the blessed Mother of Christ, this to me is the most beautiful.

After that occurrence, the Indians were converted by the tens of thousands

“We have the answer to the problem of color which confronts the East and the West,” Archbishop Miranda, primate of Mexico said to us in an interview on the last day. “Our Lady answered it then. There is no problem in Mexico. Where there was the Indian, there is now the Mexican. There is a new people, a new race. There was intermarriage from the first.” Archbishop Miranda told us of the increasing number of pilgrimages that were coming to Mexico from every state in the United States as well as Mexico to visit the shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe and to venerate the picture on the tilma which hangs behind the high altar in the Basilica.

I am always conscious when I write, of the many non-Catholics who read The Catholic Worker and who are averse to such veneration. I can only point out with St. Augustine that the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary, that He took his humanity from her. And call attention to that greeting of Elizabeth, “Blessed art thou amongst women!”

God means us to use material things as aids. He clothed the sacraments with bread and wine, with water, with oil, with the accompaniments of all beauty of ritual, music, color, odor of flowers and beeswax and incense. The Indians too say, “With this body I thee worship,” coming on their knees to the shrine, singing hymns to El Señor, in lamentation and petition, in joy and thanksgiving. They come with their centavos and their pesos, and buy candles and flowers for an odor of sweetness and they touch the images, the representations of our Lord in all the phases of His agony and death, and in the shrines of the Holy Family, at the manger, in flight to Egypt, at work, and so on. And they kneel before the picture of our Lady by the hour.

Tepeyac is the little hill on which Juan Diego first met the Blessed Virgin. The busses or
streetcars marked Villa all go to the shrine, but they walked. It is the custom too to proceed on one’s knees from a certain plaza, or from the entrance of the great plaza in front of the basilica. We had seen these kneeling figures, sometimes supported on either side by friends, sometimes in anguish, sometimes in profound peace and calm, making this long last lap of the way on their knees. Americans witnessing it were horrified but impressed, inclined to take the Blanchard view that this was exhibitionism or masochism, but nevertheless, uneasily wondering whether or not here was a resolving of this agony of guilt under which we all suffer these days.

I was thinking today how our pilgrims all come from Minnesota, a state abounding in Indian names of towns, but where are the Indians now? Fr. Leo pointed out to us the contrast between what we English did to the Indians and what the Spanish did. The Indians are still here, thirty million of them, and the country is theirs and the church is theirs, poor as they are. Our Indians have been robbed and all but exterminated, neither converted nor allowed to live under their own religions. First put on reservations, they are now being evicted and sent into the cities to be assimilated, to find employment and social security or idleness and dissipation. As to our treatment of the Mexicans in the States, the articles Ted Le Berthon has been writing for The Catholic Worker clearly show how we must examine our consciences. (Reprinted from The Catholic Worker, February and March 1958.)

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXII, No. 4, July-August 2002. (Reprinted from The Catholic Worker)