On December 9, the Church celebrates the Feast Day of Saint Juan Diego, and on December 12, we honor Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. In this article, you'll discover resources you can use in the religious education classroom, home, or parish to celebrate these Feast Days with children. Downloads available in English and Spanish.
Teaching Children About Saint Juan Diego
Saint Juan Diego, born Cuauhtlatohauc ("The eagle who speaks"), was born in present-day Mexico near Mexico City during the Age of Exploration. Juan Diego was raised in the Aztec pagan religion. Although a poor Indian, he was able to provide for himself by working in the fields and weaving mats.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519, so did missionaries wanting to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the native Mexicans. Juan Diego was from a region that had well-developed cultures, which were very different from those of European explorers. These differences often led to harsh treatment of the indigenous people. Many missionaries, however, wanted to only improve the conditions for the native people and teach them of Jesus Christ.
Juan Diego first learned about Jesus Christ through the stories and teachings of missionaries. The preachings of Jesus Christ inspired Juan Diego and his wife to be baptized. He was baptized "Juan Diego" in 1524.
During his life, Juan Diego wanted to learn more about his faith. Twice a week, he and his wife, Maria Lucia, walked fourteen miles to Mass and religious instruction. When he traveled, Juan Diego often wore a tilma, a rough cloak made from cloth of woven cactus fibers. The cloak protected him against the cold evenings and early mornings.
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to church when he heard sweet music playing. He followed the heavenly music to the top of a hill where encountered a beautiful lady. She was dressed as an Aztec noblewoman. She called him by name and spoke in his own language. The woman told him she was Mary, Mother of Christ, and that she had a special task for him. He was to tell the bishop that she wanted a shrine to be built in that very spot. She wanted to show her “love, compassion, help, and protection” for all the people.
Juan Diego thought that the bishop would doubt such a request from a poor man like him, but he did as the Lady asked. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego at first. The bishop asked for a sign from the Lady that she was Mary, the Mother of God. In response to the bishop’s request, the Lady had Juan Diego fill his tilma with roses. Since it was December, it was amazing that these roses were blooming! So Juan Diego presented the roses to the bishop. There, imprinted on the tilma, was a picture of Mary as she had last appeared.
A small chapel was quickly built on the hill where Mary had appeared. The church was dedicated to Mary. Juan Diego lived in a small house nearby for the rest of his life. He cared for the church and those who visited it. He continued to share the story of Mary’s great sign of her love for the people of Mexico and all people.
St. Juan Diego was beatified on May 6, 1990 by Pope John Paul II and canonized on July 31, 2002. His feast day is celebrated on December 9 and he is the patron saint of Indigenous people.
On December 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we recall the appearance of Mary before Saint Juan Diego, a poor Aztec Indian peasant, on Tepeyac hill in Mexico.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with the venerated image enshrined within the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The basilica is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.
There is much to the story, but what should capture our attention is the way Mary speaks to Juan Diego in his own language as well as her expressed desire to show "love, compassion, help, and protection" for all people. Mary's kindness and respect toward Juan Diego and sensitivity to his culture are powerful reminders to respect the dignity of others, especially those who are poor or "different" from us.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Lesson
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an opportunity to re-read the account of this miraculous story and to consider how God's work is being done in the midst of our lives and on behalf of everyone, rich and poor alike. Download a colorful Our Lady of Guadalupe Lesson with a prayer celebration and suggested activities to share with children on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe Prayer Card
Ask Our Lady of Guadalupe for her help and intercession with a prayer that reminds us of the love, compassion, and respect Mary showed when she appeared before Saint Juan Diego in Mexico during the year 1531. Download the Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe to share with the students and families in your religious education program. Available in English and Spanish.