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
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
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
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
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
Followed by controversy
This is not the first time Juan Diego has stirred controversy. Church officials
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
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
"There are new religious movements in Mexico, but instead of dealing with
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
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
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
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
Juan Diego's canonization. The Mass would legitimize the federal government's
decision to build an airport there – something local indigenous groups oppose, they
The protesters said that the church has turned its back on Indian believers
the European image of Juan Diego was part of that.
This latest ethnic controversy in the church, however, appears to reflect
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,
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
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
"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
thing," she said. "All the images of Juan Diego are of the same man seen
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