Papal Visit Reignites Interest in Story of Juan Diego

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Art Rascon shares the story of Juan Diego. (KTRK)

Jose Fuentes, 17, is on a personal pilgrimage. He is climbing 300 steps to behold what millions come here to see every year. Like Jose, many come on their knees, stopping occasionally to pray. Others come bearing gifts or carrying the weight of a cross. While they slowly make their way to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, some even cover their eyes.

"There is nothing wrong with his eyes," a man says. "He is saving them for the Virgin of Guadalupe.

It is here where Pope Francis greeted the masses, directly below from what many Catholics consider the centerpiece of their faith.

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe starts with Juan Diego, a humble shepherd who lived in the early 16th century. Ray Walsh is an American Catholic priest working in Mexico City. He often comes to the hill where the Catholic Church claims Diego was visited by the Virgin Mary in 1531.

"She appeared to him, a very humble man and asked him to go to the bishop," said Walsh, "Somebody who was nobody."

Diego was a poor man who didn't have a mule or any other transportation. In fact, historians say he used to walk 14 miles each way to attend mass. It was during one of these walks that the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared to Diego. She asked him to tell the local Catholic Bishop to build a church on Tepeyac Hill, on the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. However, the bishop refused to even talk to Diego, instead telling him to bring a sign as proof that he had seen a vision.

"He walked all day to get to the bishop and then he had to walk all the way back," said Walsh.

Diego returned to Tepeyac Hill where the Virgin Mary told him to gather roses in his cloak and give them to the Bishop. When Diego returned with the roses, he dropped the cloak and that's when the so-called miracle happened. The image of the Virgin was said to be emblazoned upon Diego's cloak.

Said Walsh, "So you could see how God uses nothing by means to do a very beautiful work"

The Catholic Church says the cloak now hangs in the center of the Basilica. It is below center stage where pilgrims get their closest look of the image.

The story of Juan Diego has revolutionized the Catholic Church. He was proclaimed a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and now a visit from Pope Francis. But is he real or a fraud? Dr. Leonicio Garza is a Mexican Historian who has his doubts.

"Juan Diego did not exist. He was a literary figure," said Garza. "I love the story. It's an incredible story, but it is only a story; same as if I liked Pinocchio or Flash Gordon or Cinderella."
Garza has spent much of his life studying Diego and says the story was written by an Aztec Indian in the mid-1600s, more than a hundred years after Diego's "so-called" visions.

"If Juan Diego did not exist that doesn't matter," said Garza. "Our Lady is what's important."

Garza claims the original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a 14th century Madonna originally brought to Mexico from Spain in 1556. Garza insists the image is not miraculous but instead a centuries old painting that has been touched up several times.

Said Garza, " I do not need to accept a lie. I do not need to accept that Juan Diego existed."

But there are hundreds of millions of other pilgrims who do believe and now feel even more blessed from the Pontiff's visit.

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