Not a great deal is known about Juan Diego prior to his conversion...
St. Juan Diego
"JUANITo, JUAN DIEGO. WHERE ARE YOU GOING?"
Not a great deal is known about Juan Diego prior to his conversion to the Catholic faith, but traditional sources including 'El Nican Mopohua', the oldest existing document concerning his life, provide some reliable insights.
Juan Diego was born in 1474 with the name 'Cuauhtlatoatzin' ('the talking eagle') of the Chimichimeca people in the area of Cuautlitlan, part of Mexico City today. His people were culturally advanced and it appears that Juan was a gifted member of the community. He was a farm worker, field laborer and mat maker.
At the age of 50, Juan and his wife were baptized by a Franciscan priest, Father Peter da Gand. They were among the first Catholic married couples in the New World. His wife, Maria Lucia, died five years later leaving him alone with his elderly uncle, Juan Bernardin, who was later visited by Our Lady of Guadalupe and healed of a life-threatening illness.
Following Our Lady of Guadalupe's final apparition on December 12, 1531, and having gained Friar Zumarraga's approval to complete the new chapel in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego and the locals joyfully finished the task in a mere two weeks. Once complete, Juan Diego continued to 'follow the things of God' by endeavoring to build a vibrant center of the Catholic life. With the approval of the bishop, he lived on-site until his death in a small hut at the hermitage. Many of his days were spent recounting the story of the apparitions and the miraculous tilma to the steady throng of pilgrims that visited the shrine.
More important than the testimony of his exterior graces received, Juan's humility and his personal relationship with Christ served as a dramatic example for others to follow on the path to holiness. Many people also came to him with personal needs and problems, and Juan Diego endeavored to faithfully serve Our Mother in this role as a little intercessor, with the grace of interior enlightenment growing from the moment of his first encounter with Our Mother.
As a layman, Juan Diego was in a unique position to serve potential converts and the faithful as a witness. A heroic witness to the love of God for all His children, communicated through the powerful testimony of his simple and holy life, and practiced in the virtue of boundless love of God and neighbor. He was a simple convert among the masses of indigenous peoples. A person that many could relate to.
Our Lady of Guadalupe had come to the little Juan Diego and his life was completed transformed in the love of Christ. Regardless of his human faults and imperfections prior to the experience, these were nothing in comparison to God's gift of himself, the Christ Child hidden in the Virgin Womb of Mary, Jesus Our Savior in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
"Blessed Juan Diego, a good, Christian Indian, whom simple people have always considered a saint! We ask you to accompany the Church on her pilgrimage in Mexico, so that she may be more evangelizing and more missionary each day. Encourage the Bishops, support the priests, inspire new and holy vocations, help all those who give their lives to the cause of Christ and the spread of his Kingdom.
Happy Juan Diego, true and faithful man! We entrust to you our lay brothers and sisters so that, feeling the call to holiness, they may imbue every area of social life with the spirit of the Gospel. Bless families, strengthen spouses in their marriage, sustain the efforts of parents to give their children a Christian upbringing. Look with favor upon the pain of those who are suffering in body or in spirit, on those afflicted by poverty, loneliness, marginalization or ignorance. May all people, civic leaders and ordinary citizens, always act in accordance with the demands of justice and with respect for the dignity of each person, so that in this way peace may be reinforced.
Beloved Juan Diego, 'the talking eagle'! Show us the way that leads to the 'Dark Virgin' of Tepeyac, that she may receive us in the depths of her heart, for she is the loving, compassionate Mother who guides us to the true God. Amen."
-- Pope John Paul II, Prayer from the Homily at the Canonization of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin
Juan Diego died in 1548 and was buried in the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. He was beatified on May 6, 1990 and canonized on July 31, 2002 by Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of Guadalupe.