Juan Diego as a Model of Inculturation of Faith

Rector of Urban University Puts Canonization in Perspective

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ROME, JULY 29, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II will propose Juan Diego as a model of inculturation on Wednesday when he canonizes the 16th-cenutry witness of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

That’s what Father Fidel González Fernández, rector of the Urban University of Rome, and an expert on the soon-to-be canonized saint, affirmed in an interview.

Between Dec. 9-12, 1531, the Blessed Virgin directed Juan Diego to communicate to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga her desire that a church be built in her honor.

When asked by the bishop for proof of the supernatural nature of the Virgin’s request, Juan Diego gave him fresh roses in midwinter. When he unfolded his tilma — his cotton cape — to show the roses to the bishop, the image of Our Lady was imprinted on the garment.

These extraordinary events played a key role in the conversion of the Indian population, which had resisted evangelization efforts until that point.

Q: Why is Juan Diego being canonized 454 years after his death?

Father González: For three reasons, I would say. In the first place, because canonical legislation established at the time of Urban VIII, more precisely in 1635, discouraged the introduction of processes of canonization in general. The few causes that were initiated were those of great founders of institutes or religious works, or great figures, often supported by monarchies or by other religious authorities.

In the second place, the Spanish crown did not favor the introduction of causes of canonization.

Lastly, we must remember that Juan Diego was an Indian. In the past, the causes of great founders were introduced, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola; of great missionaries, such as St. Francis Xavier; and of great mystics, such as St. Teresa of Avila. However, no one ever thought of canonizing an Indian.

Q: The Guadalupe phenomenon has been regarded by some as a symbol. With the canonization, it recovers its historical character.

Father González: As a historic event, the Guadalupe phenomenon was indisputable for three centuries, until the 18th century.

At the time of Mexico’s independence — a time when the population prayed for the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe — a Spaniard, Juan Bautista Muñoz, preferred to interpret the apparition as a myth.

Later on, with liberalism and historic positivism, many things were doubted and some began to reduce the Guadalupe event to a symbol. Today, the historic documentation available to us leads us to give the right of reason to those in the 17th century who analyzed the facts legally to the point of achieving historic verification, too.

Q: What is the message of Juan Diego and of Our Lady of Guadalupe?

Father González: The message is very simple. Our Lady appeared as the «Mother of the One through whom there is life,» which is an expression used in ancient Indian traditions to describe God the omnipotent Creator.

In her maternity, therefore, Mary wishes to embrace the whole of humanity, under the sign of the presence of the incarnate Christ in her womb, to make men discover their own face, their own dignity as children of God and brothers among themselves.

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