The Dallas Morning News
March 8, 2002

Juan Diego's makeover causes a stir

                  Catholic Church depictsrevered Mexican Indian with European features

                  By DAVID SEDEÑO and LAURENCE ILIFF / The Dallas Morning News

                  MEXICO CITY A Mexican Indian named Juan Diego, typically portrayed in religious
                  art as a dark-skinned peasant, has undergone a makeover on his way to sainthood
                  this summer, critics say. He's now a European.

                  This week the Archdiocese of Mexico City officially adopted an image of Juan Diego
                  that discards his indigenous features for softer facial features and his dark skin
                  tone for a lighter hue. He has longer hair, a full beard, is kneeling Christ-like in
                  prayer and is holding Pope John Paul II's hand.

                  Church officials say the image is drawn from a centuries-old painting, but critics say
                  it has the smack of modern marketing.

                  "I feel the church is making fun of us and toying with our faith," said Salvador
                  Méndez Gallardo, 37, a Mixtec Indian from Cuatepec, Veracruz. "This is not the Juan
                  Diego we know from our churches. This is someone else who is totally different."

                  Pope John Paul II is scheduled to canonize Juan Diego on July 30 in what is
                  expected to be the largest Mass in the church's history.

                  According to legend, in 1531 Juan Diego delivered a message from a dark-skinned
                  Virgin to the Mexico City bishop that she wanted a shrine built in her honor so that
                  she could protect the Mexican people, who at the time were mostly indigenous
                  people. Juan Diego succeeded. The Virgin of Guadalupe is now Mexico's patron
                  saint, and a sprawling church complex in northern Mexico City is dedicated in her
                  honor.

                  Followed by controversy

                  This is not the first time Juan Diego has stirred controversy. Church officials remain
                  divided about whether he really existed, and some priests oppose his canonization.

                  Some religious analysts say the makeover is a mistake.

                  Although about 80 percent of Mexico is Catholic, Protestants have had success in
                  recruiting new members in various parts of the country, especially among poor
                  Indians. By adopting a new image for Juan Diego, the Catholic Church may be
                  sending the wrong message to Indian believers, some religious and political experts
                  said.

                  "There are new religious movements in Mexico, but instead of dealing with it, the
                  church has clearly abandoned the indigenous world and, at this moment, doesn't
                  know how to work with it pastorally," said Bernardo Barranco, a religious analyst.
                  "This could be a great opportunity for the church to come to terms with this issue. ...
                  Instead, they want to de-indigenize Juan Diego, Europeanize him and make him
                  look more like an urban Catholic."

                  Defense of image

                  Church officials argued that the portrait is nothing new, that Juan Diego's image has
                  been evolving since the 18th century and that the image is more representative of
                  Mexico's 100 million people, which breaks down as 10 percent indigenous, 10
                  percent European and 80 percent mixed race.

                  "Generation after generation, century after century we have seen him this way, and
                  he is representing the other people," said Bishop Diego Monroy, the rector of the
                  Basilica de Guadalupe. "We see ourselves represented there in Juan Diego. He is
                  not white; he is brown."

                  On Thursday, the basilica gift shop was filled with the official image of John Paul
                  reaching out to a European-looking Juan Diego as the Virgin of Guadalupe looks on
                  from a bright yellow background.

                  Prices ranged from just over $2 for a medium-sized poster to almost $70 for the
                  same image on white cloth. Images of Juan Diego kneeling in prayer and walking
                  amid birds also were for sale.

                  Outside, several dozen Indians protested the lack of church support for a series of
                  demands from land reform to better treatment of indigenous workers.

                  They also opposed the use of land outside Mexico City for the open-air Mass for
                  Juan Diego's canonization. The Mass would legitimize the federal government's
                  decision to build an airport there something local indigenous groups oppose, they
                  said.

                  The protesters said that the church has turned its back on Indian believers and that
                  the European image of Juan Diego was part of that.

                  This latest ethnic controversy in the church, however, appears to reflect marketing
                  attitudes in Mexican society. Faces on television from soap opera stars and
                  advertising models to news anchors almost always are white. There are few, if any,
                  indigenous role models.

                  "Mexico doesn't talk very much about race, and when the issue comes up, it is
                  handled very awkwardly," said Dan Lund, chairman of MUND Américas, a polling and
                  consulting company in Mexico City. "It's very different than how they deal with it in
                  the United States, and they [Mexicans] don't seem to celebrate race like the
                  Brazilians do. For the Mexicans, it's like an undigested lump."

                  Mr. Méndez, the Mixtec Indian from Veracruz, said the church has become obsessed
                  with power and money part of an unholy trinity of church, state and big business.

                  "They are trying to sell an image that is not real, that is not us," the merchant said.
                  "I have never seen an Indian man with a full beard like that. We have beards like
                  mine," he said, pointing to his short beard and mustache.

                  Still, even though the official church attitude is "racist," Mr. Méndez said, "we believe
                  very deeply in the Virgin of Guadalupe, and this is our faith."

                  Micaela Méndez Márquez, 61 and from the state of Puebla, said she didn't
                  understand what the fuss was all about. The varying images of Juan Diego over the
                  centuries are all legitimate, she said.

                  "God created us all different, some darker and some lighter, but it's all the same
                  thing," she said. "All the images of Juan Diego are of the same man seen
                  differently."

                  Email dsedeno@dallasnews.com or liliff@dallasnews.com