Papa Juan Pablo II on 31 July 2002, canonized the first indigenous Indian, of the Americas, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, The Canonization took place at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It will probably go down as the signature event of his Papacy.
In the year 1531, shortly after the conquest of Mexico by the Conquistadors, Juan Diego, son of a poor Indian farmer, saw a vision of a dark skinned Virgin of Guadalupe. This event occurred on a hilltop as he was walking towards what is now Mexico City. At that time the Spanish conquerors were having difficulty converting the local indigenous people to accept the Catholic religion and maintain control over them.
According to the legends, the Spanish Catholic Church elders rejected and dismissed Juan Diego’s claims that the Virgin of Guadalupe had miraculously appeared to him. Juan Diego claimed that La Virgen de Guadalupe had told him to have a church built on the spot where she appeared. She would be their Patron Saint. The Bishop refused to believe the prostrations of a poor, ignorant Indian. They demanded proof.
The Virgin of Guadalupe, on being told that the church leaders would not believe him, told Juan Diego to gather in his cloak the multi-colored flowers that mysteriously sprouted on the barren mountain top. She told him to take them to the Church leaders. The proof would be on his cloak. Juan Diego finally presented himself before the church leaders within the courtyard of the church building. He opened his cloak and instead of flowers falling out an image of the Virgin de Guadalupe was brightly imprinted on his cloak (Which to this day still hangs on the walls of the Basilica).
La Virgen de Guadalupe became the Patron Saint of the indigenous people of the Americas from that moment on.
The Priests and the Soldiers knew that the original statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe had come from the Extramadura, Spain where most of the Conquistadors had come from. She had lain buried to escape destruction by the Moors who ruled Spain for 800 years. Her statue had darkened considerably. Legend has it, that the statue was brought to the Americas to be employed in the effort to convert the indigenous people. The indigenous people and the Mestizos made her their own and accepted her as their Patron Saint.
It would take nearly 500 years for the Catholic Church to finally accede to the demands of the people of the Americas to accept La Virgen Guadalupe as the Patron Saint of the Americas. The Mexican and the indigenous people now venerate La Virgen. Every December 12th every church, with a sizeable Mexican-Indigenous membership, celebrate her day. The matter of Juan Diego, who was chosen by La Virgen, to make her presence known, was another matter. It would not be until a Pope such as Pope John Paul II interceded upon the request of the peoples of the Americas who saw the matter as being tainted by issues of Juan Diego being dark, indigenous, uneducated, a field worker, and certainly not of the same class as the clergy who have controlled the levers of entry into the hierarchy of the church.
Mexico needed the indigenous people in the beginning in order for La Raza de Bronze to be created from the mixture of Spanish and Indigenous blood. Today, in times of grave needs, the pure indigenous people of Mexico and the rest of the Americas still suffer grave injustice and they now need the love and care of the children that they spawned since the 1500’s.
With the declaration of Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe, in Mexico City, that as of this moment, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin will be entered in the list of Saints of the Catholic Church. “We define Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin as a Saint. He shall so be devoutly honored in all the churches,” said the Pope.
After the Canonization the Pope, on bended knee, prayed to Juan Diego, as the first indigenous Saint of the American continent, to intervene and bring justice and respect for the rights of the various indigenous groups in their countries.