History: Church tied to Juan Diego legacy. - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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History: Church tied to Juan Diego legacy.

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Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002 12:00 am

By Emma Perez Trevino

The Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE His birth name was Cuauhtlatoatzin.

Missionaries for the Roman Catholic Church renamed him Juan Diego.

And on Wednesday, the Chichimeca Indian that Pope John Paul II called the

confidant of the sweet Lady of Tepeyac will become St. Juan Diego, in a

canonization ceremony at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

In the popes fifth trip to Mexico since his first arrival in 1979, he returns

to the country that is so close to his heart to also beatify martyrs Juan

Bautista and Jacinto de los Angeles of Oaxaca.

Juan Diego was the humble Mexican peasant to whom the Virgin of Guadalupe

appeared over four days in December 1531 at the foot of Tepeyac Hill.

Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Angeles were Zapotec Indians killed in 1700,

while assisting the Dominicans as their communitys civil and religious

guardians and keepers of public morality in San Francisco Cajonos.

In a country of 97 million people, of which 89.6 million are Catholics and

constitute more than 92 percent of the total population, the Virgin of

Guadalupe and Juan Diego were central to the conversion of the Indians to

Catholicism following the Spanish Conquest.

For we who believe in the miracle of Guadalupe, it is a historical event that

plays a very important part in bringing the Christian faith to the American

continent, said Rev. Alfonso Guevara, of Brownsville.

I see Juan Diego as a type of Moses, or prophet figure, that God chose to

bring the Christian faith into the land within the traditions and symbols of

the Mexican people, he said.

In 1996, Guillermo Schulemburg, the former decades-long abbot of the basilica,

caused a stir when he said Juan Diego was merely a symbol, not a real man, and

referred to his 1990 beatification as the recognition of a cult.

To those who challenge Juan Diegos existence, Guevara said, That is their

right, but we exist as Christians, especially people of Mexican descent,

because of that miracle.

Today, the site of Juan Diegos house in Cuautitlan near Mexico City houses

the Iglesia del Cerrito, the Church on the Little Hill.

Brownsville pilgrim Alicia Putegnat was among a group with Archbishop Patrick

Flores of San Antonio who this month visited the ruins of the home of Juan

Diego and his uncle, Juan Bernardino, which now provide the base for the

church.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, she said. You just feel the

presence of God and the presence of the Blessed Mother. It makes me cry just

thinking about it.

Putegnat, a firm believer in the existence of Juan Diego, said the world today

is a confused place.

Sometimes, its hard to understand or to accept some things for some people,

but this is what faith is all about, she said.

Shes ours, Putegnat said, simply. Hes ours, too.

Tony Zavaleta, a sociologist and anthropologist at the University of

Texas-Brownsville, said it is ridiculous to question Juan Diegos existence.

They (skeptics) get so hung up on historical nuances, he said.

It is well known that the population of the time did not write and read, he

said, and that Juan Diego was an Indian and very poor.

To me, its not surprising that there would not be an extensive historical

record, Zavaleta said. And for people to use that, they also call into

question the authenticity of the mantel of the image of the Virgin, and you

get into some real serious politics of class and race.

Religion, after all, has to be based on faith, he added. Either you

believe, or you dont believe.

He said that, at best, he is amused by naysayers.

At worst, I am irritated by that so-called debate, especially since there are

clerical people involved in that, he said.

Zavaleta, a devotee of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego, went to Mexico

City last Sunday to pray, feeling it would be impossible to get near the

basilica this week because the pope would be in town and the city of 20

million people would be even more crowded with the addition of thousands of

pilgrims.

I went as a pilgrim to fulfill a promise. I also went to pray and to ask for

the intercession of the Virgin for things that I want to happen in my life and

in my community, Zavaleta said.

I would not be exaggerating to tell you that most of the times that I have

gone to the basilica, it has been perfunctory. But this time, it was a moving

religious experience.

There was something there, I felt it, he said. It was no accident.

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