December North America Saints

Saint Juan Diego

Feast Day: December 9

How To Make Cheese Enchiladas

Today we are feasting with… Saint Juan Diego.

To celebrate this feast day we are making Cheese Enchiladas. Make this traditional Mexican dish by filling corn tortillas with grated cheese, topping with a mildly spicy, homemade sauce, and then covering with a bit more cheese. Simple, but full of flavor.

A Man of “No Importance”

Juan Diego, a native of Mexico, is the first Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas. Little is known of his early life, though he was originally of the Aztec culture. However, when he was fifty years old, he was among the first indigenous people to accept baptism and convert to Christianity, after its introduction to Mexico by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries.

Juan Diego was in the habit of regularly walking from his home to the Franciscan mission station at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform his religious duties. His route passed by Tepeyac Hill, on the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. 

On December 9, 1531, while on his long walk, he was visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. She appeared to him clothed as a native to the region and spoke to him in his native language. She asked him to tell the bishop to build a shrine to her upon the hill.

He delivered the request, but was told by the bishop, Fray Juan Zumárraga, to come back the next day so that he had time to reflect upon what Juan Diego had just told him. Later the same day returning to Tepeyac, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin again and he announced the failure of his mission. Upon suggesting that she would do better to recruit someone of greater importance, Our Lady insisted that it was he who she wanted for the task. Juan Diego agreed to return to the bishop to repeat his request. 

On the morning of Sunday, December 10,  he found the bishop more compliant. The bishop asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was truly of heaven. Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac Hill, and encountering the Virgin Mary, he reported the bishop’s request for a sign. She condescended to provide one on the following day.

By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen ill, and Juan was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours his uncle’s condition deteriorated.

Early the morning of December 12, while searching for a priest to administer last rites to his uncle, Juan Diego was visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary once again. She instructed him to gather roses within his tilma (cloak) and take them to the bishop as a sign. Juan Diego found many roses on the hill even though it was wintertime. She also informed Juan Diego that his uncle would recover from his illness. 

When he appeared before the bishop, he opened his tilma and dozens of roses fell out– and an image of Mary, which was imprinted on the inside of his cloak, became visible. Having received his proof, the bishop ordered that a church be built on Tepeyac Hill in honor of the Blessed Virgin. Juan Diego returned home and found his uncle’s health restored.

On December 26, 1531, a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small, hastily erected chapel. For the rest of his life Juan Diego lived in a hut next to the church built in honor of Our Lady. He took care of all of the pilgrims who came to visit the shrine. He was buried in the church, and his tilma can still be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Juan Diego was beatified on May 6, 1990, and canonized on July 31, 2002, by Pope John Paul II. Numerous miracles have been attributed to him, and he remains one of the most popular and important saints in Mexico.

Saint Juan Diego is the patron of indigenous peoples.

Saint Juan Diego, pray for us.

How to Make Cheese Enchiladas