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. The thought occurs to me--What if Frederick Douglass were alive today? Would we be more committed to the cause of justice in our own communities here and now? And what if Juan Diego was with us still? Would the lives of Latin Americans be of more value? As interesting and entertaining as all these stories are, the real question seems to be whether or not they inspire us to be brave when God asks us to be brave and humble when God needs us to be humble.

  2. Last Saturday the Met opera was the Lady of the Lake, (see FD's bio) lead tenor was Juan Diego Flores a strange coincidence and complicates a vote between two excellent candidates. I will have to ponder this.

  3. Douglass was not only inspired by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he WAS a prophet whose faith and works helped open up a new future for the marginalized and oppressed. He has my vote today.

  4. The choice is just agony today but I went with Juan. There is just a sweetness to him......

  5. Just to be clear, the Dickens novel is "Bleak House," not "The Bleak House." These things do matter.

  6. Seems like these two are quite similar in that both make strong and undeniable statements of the love and message of God is for all, regardless of race, color, nationality, or economic status. So I guess it is Frederick Douglass for me mostly because he rose to such status after such a humble beginning, and maintained an humble spirit despite the status he achieved.

  7. I love this madness - and learn so much. And not just about the saints. You expand my vocabulary. I always sit with dictionary at the ready. Today I have added tilma and growlery!

  8. So tough. But I'm for Juan Diego today, even though I'm in DC. Douglass was heroic and his fight is still going on, but Juan Diego's people faced actual genocide. His witness helped bring God to an entire continent.

  9. What a humble man, Juan Diego. His encounter with Mary led hundreds of thousands to Christ (as she always does) within 10 years

  10. How to "vote" for two exemplary Christians whose witness and ministry affected so many people for such a long time - and will continue to do so? Another dynamic duo!

  11. As a member of the Anti-Racism Committee of the Diocese of New York, I have no choice but to vote for Douglass. Juan Diego is a powerful symbol for the people of Mexico, but I vote for Douglass unapologetically.

  12. Two great heroes, so there isn't a wrong vote. Those who growl over the despair of their people are often not recognized, so I greatly admire Mr. Douglass. However, being in Texas and seeing the impact of the Lady of Guadalupe, Mr. Diego obtained my vote. Juan to the Final Four!

  13. I was at the Basilica in Mexico City last December for the celebration of the fiesta de la Virgen. People walked for days carrying her picture on their backs. Families camped overnight in the square, lit candles, walked on their knees into the church. Juan Diego's experience continues to impact the Mexico of today. "La Morenita", celebrated for her brown skin, continues to hold her people's hopes, aspirations, and sorrows. Much as I love FD too, I have to vote for Juan Diego.

  14. Yes, we all need a Growlery. I think that Frederick Douglass believed that we are all brethren, but he was also a politician. Women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for abolition and women's rights. He fought with them for both causes until 1867 when he broke with them over the fight for the Fifteenth Amendment, the post-Civil War voting rights amendment. The women argued that that was the moment to push for explicit protection of voting rights for women and people of color. Douglass chose a narrower path, supporting only voting rights for people (men) of color. The women felt, justifiably, betrayed. That rift never really healed. Juan Diego opened the door to catholicisms to indigenous people throughout Latin America. It is not happenstance, by the way, that there are more Virgins from the Americas than anywhere else in the Catholic world. Most pre-Colombian religions were polytheistic and incorporated deities in male and female pairs. The Virgins became vehicles through which indigenous Americans could incorporate ideas of pre-Colombian female deities in a Catholic construct. There were so many Juan Diegos in Latin America, many of them women. For all of them and for all of the Virgins (Que me cuides, Virgincita del Valle!), Juan Diego.

    1. You're partly right. There was a split among those fighting for the right to vote.

      However, after the 15th amendment was passed, then Douglass resumed the fight for women's right to vote.

      Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony both insulted each other. Douglass abandoned his female allies. Stanton made racist remarks.

      From http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/TWR-16.html :
      Frederick Douglas (noted African American Abolitionist): Report of American Equal Rights Association Meeting, May 14, 1868. “I champion the right of the negro to vote. It is with us a matter of life and death, and therefore can not be postponed. I have always championed women’s right to vote; but it will be seen that the present claim for the negro is one of the most urgent necessity. The assertion of the right of women to vote meets nothing but ridicule; there is no deep seated malignity in the hearts of the people against her; but name the right of the negro to vote, all hell is turned loose and the Ku-Klux and Regulators hunt and slay the unoffending black man. The government of this country loves women. They are the sisters, mothers, wives and daughters of our rulers; but the negro is loathed....The negro needs suffrage to protect his life and property, and to answer him respect and education. He needs it for the safety of reconstruction and the salvation of the Union; for is own elevation from the position of a drudge to that of an influential member of society.”

      Also from http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/TWR-16.html :
      Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in The Revolution, February, 1869. “We say not another man, black or white, until woman is inside the citadel. What reason have we to suppose the African would be more just and generous than the Saxon has been?...how insulting to put every shade and type of manhood above our heads, to make laws for educated refined, wealthy women....The old anti slavery school says women must stand back and wait until the negroes shall be recognized. But we say, if you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. If intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the government, let the question of the woman be brought up first and that of the negro last....There is not the woman born who desires to eat the bread of dependence, no matter whether it be from the hand of father, husband, or brother; or any one who does so eat her bread places herself in the power of the person from whom she take it.”

      1. Thank you Kim. This makes it so clear what the stakes were for everyone and eloquence and power women and men brought to the debate.
        In Australia our Aboriginal people were not granted citizenship until a national referendum in 1967! Before that they were part of "Fauna and Flora". There are still Aborigines alive who were denied passports. The struggle is worth it.

  15. Now I'm seeing the result of having voted for all but one of the winners in the first round: I'm forced to choose between my darlings. I came close to abstaining but decided in favor of Douglass because he was both an abolitionist and a feminist.

  16. Growlery, a Mastiff, and "dogged" determination. Sometimes the "Quirks and Quotes" round is genuinely wonderful! Here's a capitol vote for Douglass!!

  17. One affected the history of a nation, the other the history of the world and the church. And remained humble.

  18. This one was hard. I can see either of them as winner. Juan Diego for his part in convincing the powers that be and the powers that be not that God is God of all. Frederick Douglass for his work to show the worth of all people before God and humankind. I voted for Douglass simply because I could only vote for one, and I have admired him for years.

  19. Anybody else curious about what a "tilma" is? From the good folks who update Wikipedia: A tilmàtli (or tilma) was a type of outer garment worn by men, documented from the late Postclassic and early Colonial eras among the Aztec and other peoples of central Mexico.

    Tilma and Growleries! It's a tough choice! As a Rochesterian, I'm leaning towards Frederick Douglass . . . lots of ties to him here including a (relatively) new bridge named for him and Susan B. Anthony.

  20. Carol, I'm in the same pickle! I voted for all but two of the winners in the first round, and now they're battling each other!
    However, committed as I am to the position that sainthood is not limited to those already wearing halos, I vote for Douglass! And, all y'all, please take note: "Douglass" is spelled with 2 s's. Just sayin'...

  21. I have to vote for Juan Diego. The Virgin of Guadalupe Procession comes through my neighborhood every December!

  22. From what Kim said, Douglass was not much of a feminist, he turned against the women's efforts to obtain the right to vote
    ! Thanks for the info. Juan Diego got my vote.

  23. Unfortunately for us ordianry voters, the SEC has indeed done skillful work in creating an exciting contest with agonizing choices. Juan Diego, indigenous convert, mystic, Francis-like humility speaking truth to power: what's not to love! Frederick Douglas, slave to statesman, theologian, a courageous speaker of truth: what's not to love! In the end the person whose native faith and culture had been stripped away from his people, who was not even a full human being according to the laws at the time he was born, who became an exemplary human being, who was able to say of oppressed and oppressor alike,"God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren." That humble witness to the power of Christ takes my breath away. Juan Diego is amazing, but the whole Perpetual Virgin worship that seems to be the catalyst of his witness was far less inspiring.
    They both walked the walk, but I think Frederick Douglas did more to talk the talk.