St. Juan Diego was born in 1474, and given the name Cuauhtlatoatzin, meaning “singing eagle,” in the Anahuac Valley of what is now Mexico. He was raised according to the Aztec pagan religion and culture, but had a deeply mystical sense of life, even before he heard the Gospel from Franciscan missionaries.
In 1524, Cuauhtlatoatzin and his wife converted to Catholicism, and he was baptized as Juan Diego. He was committed to his faith, and often walked long distances to receive religious instructions.
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was hurrying to Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. But he was stopped by the Blessed Virgin herself, who announced herself as the “ever-perfect holy Mary, who has the honor to be the mother of the true God.” Mary told Juan Diego that she was also his mother, and the mother of everyone in the land.
She asked Juan Diego to request a “sacred little house” from the local bishop, to be built on the site of a former pagan temple. The house would show Jesus to all Mexicans and exalt him throughout the world.
Juan Diego faithfully took her request to his local bishop, who was skeptical. Juan Diego promised to produce proof of the apparition after he finished tending to his uncle, who was near death.
On December 12, Juan Diego went to church to summon a priest for his uncle, and met Mary again. She promised to cure his uncle, and to give him.a sign to convince the bishop. On the hill where he had first seen her, Juan Diego found fresh roses and flowers, even though it was winter. He brought the flowers back to her, and Mary placed them in his tilma, telling him not to unwrap them until he reached the bishop.
Juan Diego visited Bishop Zumarraga again. When he opened his tilma, the bishop saw the image we know now as that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted on the flower-filled cloth.
The basilica in Mexico City now houses that tilma, and is estimated to be the most-visited Catholic shrine in the world.
The miracle of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe converted millions of Mexicans, and deepened Juan Diego’s own faith. For many years, he lived a solitary life of prayer in a hermitage near the church where the image was first displayed. He died on December 9, 1548, the 17th anniversary of his first visit from the Blessed Mother.
John Paul II beatified St. Juan Diego in 1990 and canonized him in 2002.