MEXICO CITY, JULY 31, 2002 ( John Paul II canonized Juan Diego, the Indian witness of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image helped convert Mexico.

The saint, who lived from 1474 to 1548, is the first Indian of the Americas to be raised to the altar.

Describing the newly canonized saint, the Pontiff said, "He facilitated the fruitful meeting of two worlds" -- the European and Indian, which have contributed to the making of present-day Mexico.

The climax of the celebration came when the Holy Father read the formula for the canonization in Spanish. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where the ceremony was held, was flooded with people, as was the square in front of the basilica and nearby streets.

"We declare and define as saint Blessed Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin and inscribe him in the catalogue of saints, and we establish that he be honored with devotion by the whole Church," the Holy Father said in a slow, clear voice.

At the conclusion, the image of the saint made its solemn entrance, accompanied by an Indian family and other faithful carrying incense and flowers. The procession approached the altar in the midst of a ritual dance, until the image was placed in the site where it was venerated during and after the ceremony.

The Gospel was proclaimed in Spanish and Nahuatl, the language spoken by Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin ("the talking eagle").

At the start of the eucharistic celebration, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop of Mexico, asked the Pope to confer his blessing on the Indians, so that their needs and human rights will be recognized.

In speaking about the new saint, the Pontiff said that Christian faith "makes no distinctions of race or culture."

"In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God," John Paul II added.

"Thus he facilitated the fruitful meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for the new Mexican identity, closely united to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose mestizo face expresses her spiritual motherhood which embraces all Mexicans," the Holy Father continued.

In the presence of President Vicente Fox, John Paul II said that Juan Diego's testimony "must continue to be the inspiration for the building up of the Mexican nation, encouraging brotherhood among all its children and ever helping to reconcile Mexico with its origins, values and traditions."

"The noble task of building a better Mexico, with greater justice and solidarity, demands the cooperation of all," the Pope said. "In particular, it is necessary today to support the indigenous peoples in their legitimate aspirations, respecting and defending the authentic values of each ethnic group. Mexico needs its indigenous peoples and these peoples need Mexico!"

John Paul II ended his homily with a supplication to Juan Diego, in which he prayed that he look with "favor upon the pain of those who are suffering in body or in spirit, on those afflicted by poverty, loneliness, marginalization or ignorance."

"May all people, civic leaders and ordinary citizens, always act in accordance with the demands of justice and with respect for the dignity of each person, so that in this way peace may be reinforced," the Pope concluded.

On Thursday, the Pontiff will preside over the beatification of Indian martyrs Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Angeles, killed in 1700. He will then depart for Rome.