This Friday 9th December is the (optional) Memorial of St. John Diego. His story is fascinating. Early one December morning in 1531 a Mexican peasant farmer set off to walk to Mass, but as he went along, he was suddenly distracted by lights and music, and a voice calling his name: Juan Diego! Juan Diego! He climbed the nearby hill, and there met a young woman bathed in light, dressed like an Aztec princess, who told him to go and tell the bishop to build a church on that spot. He hurried off to see the bishop, but he said he wanted proof. (He might have been wondering what on earth his Diocesan Trustees and Property and Finance Board might say!) So Juan Diego went back and again met the Woman from Heaven, who told him to take the bishop some flowers. He wrapped the flowers in his cloak, but when he arrived and let them fall out, the bishop fell to his knees. For there, impressed on his cloak, was the beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Soon after, millions of Aztecs and indigenous peoples converted to Christ, and Guadalupe is now the biggest Marian shrine in the world, a place of prayer and many miracles.
Pope John Paul II canonised St. Juan Diego in 2002 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, just north of Mexico City, the very place where Our Lady asked that a church be constructed. At the Mass of canonisation, he acclaimed Juan Diego as a model of holiness for our times. Here was a layman who humbly accepted the mission entrusted to him and persevered despite the obstacles. Humility characterised his life. He had a good education and was a responsible steward of the possessions inherited from his forebears. Nevertheless, he set everything aside after the apparition, in order to live in a small hut next to where the future basilica would one day be built.