Juan Diego vs. Frederick Douglass

Today, Lent Madness offers us a tough choice between Juan Diego and Frederick Douglass. Their respective stories and legacies are compelling yet only one will advance to the Elate Eight. To paraphrase a best-selling book: Eat, Pray, Vote. Unless you've already eaten. In which case, just pray and vote. 

Yesterday, in a hotly contested battle, Molly Brant edged out Cuthbert 51% to 49% and will advance to face the winner of Bernard Mizecki vs. Jackson Kemper.

Oh, and don't forget to watch yet another exciting episode of Monday Madness. Tim and Scott mention a few folks (at least by town) who have been cast into the outer darkness for voting too many times from a single location and they reveal just who writes all the Monday Madness scripts (HINT: It's not Jimmy Fallon's talented stable of writers).

unnamedJuan Diego

Juan Diego, raised according to the Aztec pagan religion, showed an unusual and mystical sense of life even prior to hearing the Gospel from missionaries. It is said that before the famous apparition of the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego was a virtuous man who led such an exemplary life that people often asked him to intercede for them in prayer.

On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego experienced that apparition in which he asked the Virgin her name. She responded in his native language of Nahuatl, "Tlecuatlecupe," which means "the one who crushes the head of the serpent" (side note: the serpent was a very important symbol in Aztec religion! Coincidence?!?) "Tlecuatlecupe" when correctly pronounced, sounds very similar to "Guadalupe."

Thus, the Americas would have a new symbol of hope in La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Having carried out La Virgencita’s message (another popular name used for the Virgin of Guadalupe), Juan Diego lived out his life in a hut next to the church built in her honor. There he spent his days in prayer, extending hospitality to pilgrims visiting La Virgencita.

It is very possible that Juan Diego never fully understood the impact that his willingness to be a messenger had for his people. Because of Juan Diego, the Indigenous people of Mexico heard the clear message that they too were beloved children of God. The choice of a simple indigenous man as a messenger for the Virgin of Guadalupe meant that all people were important. Juan Diego’s witness to the appearance of La Virgen changed the face of the Church, opening the doors to all people regardless of nationality or social standing. 

In his canonization homily, Pope John Paul II said, “In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God. Thus he facilitated the fruit meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for the new Mexican identity, closely united to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose mestizo face expresses her spiritual motherhood which embraces all Mexicans."

La Virgen de Guadalupe, is a powerful symbol that reminds the poorest of the poor, that they are loved and important in the eyes of God. This was an important message in a time when the conquistadores had convinced everyone that the Indigenous in the Americas were less than human.

How marvelous that Juan Diego a “nobody” in the eyes of the Aztec Empire and in the eyes of the conquistadores would be chosen to carry out such an important message and serve as a role model to all Christians!

NOTE: Juan Diego’s tilma with the imprinted image of La Virgen hangs in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. According to a study by Virgilio Elizondo, professor of Pastoral and Hispanic Theology at the University of Notre Dame, there have been many reports suggesting that the tilma is fake, possibly brought from Europe. Elizondo argues that if the tilma had been manufactured in Europe it would had not have lasted as long as it has. The tilma seems to be made from woven hemp, from a plant that is native to Mexico, explaining the tilma’s remarkable state of preservation.

Nancy Frausto

Douglass at workFrederick Douglass

Throughout Frederick Douglass’ life, literature and Holy Scripture remained an ever-present force. After his escape from slavery, Douglass, who was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, renamed himself after a character in Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. His sense of mission was inspired by the prophetic words of Old Testament Scripture.

Regarding the Civil War, Douglass wrote, “Civil war was not a mere strife for territory and dominion, but a contest of civilization against barbarism.” After the Civil War, Douglass brought attention to the rise of lynchings in the Deep South and the ongoing racism that prevented the economic and social advancement of African Americans. He was also an outspoken advocate for female suffrage. Hours before his death Douglass stood alongside suffragist Susan B. Anthony and Methodist minister and physician Anna Howard Shaw as they rallied for women’s voting rights. Regarding the matter, Douglass once wrote in his newspaper The North Star, “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color. God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”

Although Douglass spent much of his time traveling and giving speeches, he and his family called Washington D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood home. It was there that he purchased 15 acres of land and built his 20-room home, which he called Cedar Hill. Although Douglass’ home offered a clear view of the U.S. Capitol building, he often retreated to a cabin behind his house, which he named “The Growlery.” There, Douglass, read, wrote, and “growled” when the mood called for it. Charles Dickens’ novel, The Bleak House, served as Douglass’ inspiration for his Growlery. Douglass’ dog, a mastiff, often kept him company when Douglass took to his cabin. Douglass also took great pleasure exercising with barbells.

Douglass’ eventual financial and relative vocational success was a far cry from his birth in the confines of slavery and reflects his dogged determination, his belief in the dignity of humankind — which he noted was rooted in his study of Holy Scripture — and his unwillingness to let evil win. That said, Douglass was not content to rest on his successes knowing that many African Americans with equal determination and faith faced unyielding resistance and violence. And in the face of strident criticism and danger, Douglass remained resolute: “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

On June 19, 2013, a seven-foot statue of Douglass was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol building. The date of the statue’s dedication, known as Juneteenth, commemorates the arrival of the Emancipation Proclamation to the people of Texas.

Maria Kane


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142 comments on “Juan Diego vs. Frederick Douglass”

  1. Mr. Douglas gets my vote, “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color. God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.” hard to ignore this man of God.

  2. All saints are worthy of glory. It's always a hard choice. But I vote for Douglass, the amazingly noble and brave man.

  3. Got to go with Frederick Douglass, whose love of literature and Scripture resonates with me. To learn new ideas from careful study and to write, preach, and teach about them is my passion, too. I wish I had a "Growlery," though. That'd be cool.

  4. Our Lady of Guadalupe is so important to both Hispanics and Native Americans - my vote is for Juan Diego.

  5. I predict Fred D will make it to the final round. Of course, I have done quite poorly so far. But Fred D has big mo.

  6. Juan Diego for me today--he was one of those saints who helped us remember that the Gospel is not a Western construct, and that the Good News is only strengthened by its inculturation wherever it lands.

  7. While the story of Juan Diego is very intriguing and I would love to see the Tilma, I have to vote for Douglas. He was brave, steadfast and stuck to the truth of God. We are all brothers and sisters, children of God.

    1. wow, all these comments are my thoughts exactly!! Love both these folks today.
      Will think about this all day until voting has to be done! Double dipping sounds like a very good idea (I'm tempted too!). Blessings to all.

  8. I've traveled extensively throughout Latin America for decades. For all of its troubles, much of the entire region is alive in Christ and full of people more serious about their faith than are here in my own state in the U.S.. It would be a very different place for many nations if not for this one saint. Thank you, Juan Diego.

  9. Yesterday you mentioned the "other March Madness" and today you failed to mention the "other other"
    March Madness" You have offended the female basketball fans of our saintly journey. Shame on you.

    1. Marjorie, I hope you meant to say "fans of women's basketball", as we come in both genders. Go, LADY CARDINAL (no "s" for Stanford!!) If only ESPN felt the same way, amd covered the two versions in an informed way.

    2. There's a news story today saying that the basketball powers that be are SUING people who use the terms, "March Madness," "Elite Eight," etc. A pox on them! Let's invent our own terms.

  10. “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color. God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.” We are still struggling to live out the truth in Douglass's words. For his learning and commitment, and for his companion dog, I vote for Douglass today, whilst honouring the wonderful contribution of Juan Diego. There are no easy rounds....

  11. FD "renamed himself after a character in Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. " Okay, he's got my vote today 🙂 It's madness, but a connection to Sir Walter is a connection to Edinburgh, my favorite city!

    1. I was named after my father, named after his father, named after his father named after Quentin Durward, another Walter Scott character. Today, I learned I have a connection Frederick Douglas. Pretty cool.

      1. Oops. Oh well people are always leaving the "s" off my last name too. Just another connection?

  12. That Juan Diego was Aztec first, Catholic second, and so blessed by his vision that he has been sainted and will always be "on the map" in the Americas persuaded me. His humbly received gift multiplies its holiness each year among millions of the faithful. Even an Episcopalian like me is moved by his story.

  13. Oy!

    I'm going with Douglass. I think that one who shows Christ to the world, "majestic in his wrath" in this instance, takes precedence over one to whom Our Lady chose to show herself.

  14. Frederick Douglass is up against Sojourner Truth in our parish's Heroes of Black History Month competition! We started with only 8 contestants, and have included biographies and photos in an insert in the Sunday bulletins.

  15. While I admire both men and it was a tough one today with Douglass quote "Right if of no Sex - Truth is of no Color. God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.", I was moved to vote for Juan Diego. There was just something about someone raised in the Aztec tradition not just becoming a Christian but becoming such an advocate for Christianity.

    1. I too would have thought this would be a tough one, but the margin of FD's lead would seem to suggest others had an easier time of it.

  16. you won me over with this line: “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color. God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”

  17. I find it interesting that so many are voting for a former slave today while yesterday a woman who owned slaves yet never freed them won...how odd! Although I acknowledge the immense contribution to society by Frederick Douglass, especially to our African American sisters and brothers, today my vote goes to Juan Diego. Humility always gets my vote and the fact that Juan Diego chose to live in a hut beside the basilica touched me. FD had every right to build his 20 room home with a view of the capitol, but Juan Diego seems more "saintly" to me.

  18. What does it mean for us all to see ourselves on the Mother of God? I think Douglas would vote for Diego.