One of the most moving days for me during Pope John Paul II’s time was during his apostolic visit to Mexico in 2002 to proclaim Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin a saint. This wasn’t the first time a pope was proclaiming a Mexican person a saint, but this was the first time this pope was proclaiming an indigenous Mexican a saint. And that was a big deal.
One could see this was a big deal, especially when the leaders of Mexican indigenous tribes came to the altar during the mass of canonization at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City, on July 31, 2002. I was especially moved when the indigenous leaders came up at the offertory time and offered some of their dances and customs in praise of God. Here in the United States we can see the “matachines” doing something similar during the celebrations honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe in some of our parishes.
For me, the offertory procession at Mass has great significance as people, indigenous or not, “bring their gifts to the Altar to offer their first fruits and all their being to God.” The tribal leaders at Mass were that day affirming that, through Saint Mary of Guadalupe, God is with them and still cares for them.
“Juanito,” little Juan as Mary called him, was at this time still proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to his people. And the pope could not look more at home at this celebration. The pope who loved Mexico so much and was so loved in return was still showing God’s love to the people of Mexico and to all those who have embraced the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
There is a lot to learn from that canonization and from John Paul II’s relationship with the Mexican people. One of the lessons I can think of is that those who sometimes are marginalized or powerless can, in spite of everything, recognize and know that God is with them and that God cares for them.
I won’t go into the details of the story of how the Virgin Mary’s apparition to Juan Diego and her request to go talk to the local bishop changed the way evangelization developed in Mexico and in the rest of Latin America. But the striking fact from the way evangelization took place is that those who converted felt the presence of God in their own lives and in the story of their people. Many Hispanic immigrants in the United States also share the devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of God. Perhaps we can invoke the intercession of San Juan Diego for the many immigrants that suffer and are marginalized today.
During this time of Advent as we wait for the celebration of the coming of the Son of God, we do well in taking the example of San Juan Diego and the indigenous peoples of the Americas in waiting for the time when God will once again show His love for us.
May we also take up their challenge to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of love and life when his Mother calls us to proclaim it.
Father Juan Molina is USCCB’s Director of the Collection for the Church in Latin America