Today the church in the Americas recalls St. Juan Diego, the indigenous campesino to whom Mary appeared in 1531 at what is now known as Guadalupe, Mexico.
Only ten years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Mary appears as an indigenous woman to a member of the conquered peoples and asks that a shrine be built to her on the hill of Tepeyac.
According to the stories that have come down to us, Juan Diego tells Mary that she should choose someone else, “one of the important persons who is well known, respected, and esteemed so that they may believe him. You know that I am nobody, a nothing, a coward, a pile of old sticks.”
When he goes to the bishop with Mary’s request, he is largely ignored until he comes back with his cloak full of roses – but imprinted with Mary’s image.
I continually encounter the sense of nothingness among some of the people I work with here in Honduras. They have been made to feel as if they have not worth. A former head of Congress publicly called them the Spanish equivalent of “hillbillies” or “hicks.” The rich and powerful look down on them.
I have also occasionally seen this in those who come here for “mission” trips. (According to one press account, more than 50,000 come to Honduras each year for such purposes.) Some come claiming to bring Christ – as if he is not already here. Other come with Western ideas of development which may not take into account the native wisdom. Others come not realizing that people here do know a lot and despite the poverty and the poor educational system they can teach people from the US a lot.
The lectionary has special readings for the feast of St. Juan Diego that speak to this: 1 Corinthians 1: 26 -31 and Mathew 11: 25-30.
Paul reminds us that God has chosen the weak of the world to confound the strong. As Jesus said, God has hidden things from the wise and revealed them to the simple.
What are these lessons?
I could mention them but what is really needed is the humility to “be” with the poor, to accompany them in their struggles for survival as well as for justice. It usually means abandoning our desire to control and direct what happens here.
We from the US don’t have all the answers; sometimes we don’t even know what the real questions are. But together we can reveal some signs of the Kingdom of God.
Like the bishop of Mexico City who needed to be persuaded by Juan Diego, let us learn to listen to the poor. That means being with them, listening to them and loving them.