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Juan Diego and NPR
Wednesday, March 20, 2002   By: J.E. Simmons

NPR gives us another example of hack reporting, poor sourcing, and a general one sided, anti-religion story. This time they attack the Roman Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary, and the Blessed Juan Diego.

NPR gives us another example of hack reporting, poor sourcing, and a general one sided, anti-religion story. This time they attack the Roman Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary, and the Blessed Juan Diego.

The reporter is Gerry Hadden. His story is here. His NPR bio says he lives in Mexico City, where fact - or at least contention - checking should be simple. That's where, according to the Church, Juan Diego met the Virgin Mary in 1531.

Pope John Paul II will be traveling to Mexico this summer to recognize Juan Diego as a saint. Gerry Hadden's story was about people who contend that Juan Diego never existed. Hadden reports his sources as saying there is no documentation of Juan Diego's existence, and that all written reports were made hundreds of years after the event. Hadden also reports his sources as saying there has never been any scientific investigation of the claims of Juan Diego's supporters. Hadden's only bites from pro-Juan Diego folks were from lay people who simply have faith. He didn't report anything from pro-Juan Diego historians, church officials, or scientists.

I don't know if the story of Juan Diego is true or not. I'd like to believe it. I do know there's much more to the story than Hadden reported.

Here's the short version. In 1521, Cortez militarily conquered the Aztec capital at what is not Mexico City. Cortez reported that the Aztecs sacrificed 20,000 humans, many of them children, to their gods. The Spanish were determined to break up the Aztec religion and stop the human sacrifices. They were unsuccessful.

In 1625, an Amerind named Quahtlatoatzin was baptized and took the Christian name Juan Diego.

On a Saturday in early December 1531, Juan Diego was walking along, minding his own business when someone he described as "a lady from heaven" appeared to him. She asked him to go to the Spanish Bishop and have a temple built so that she "may therein exhibit and give you all my love, compassion, help, and protection."

Juan Diego went to the Bishop. The Bishop though Juan Diego was full of it, but told him to bring him a sign of a miracle. Juan Diego and the Virgin Mary met three more times. The final time, she had him climb a hill and gather flowers he would find growing there. Mexico City's altitude is almost a mile and a half. There should have been no flowers blooming in December, but Juan Diego found roses blooming. He picked them, arranged them in his tilma, and took them to the Bishop.

The Bishop recognized the miracle and built the temple to the Virgin of Guadelupe in 1533.

Hadden's experts say there is no documentation of the story for "hundreds of years" after Juan Diego died. He's not correct, as he would have learned if he'd bothered to interview folks on the other side of the issue.

First, a Franciscan priest named Mitolina wrote in 1541, seven years before Juan Diego died, that 9 million Aztecs had converted to Christianity. Second, in 1555 the second Archbishop of Mexico formulated cannons that approved of the apparitions. Third, the story is told in full in the Nican Moporhua, or Huei Tlamahuitzoltica, written by the Amerind scholar Antonio Valeriano about 100 years after the event. The oldest surviving copy was published in 1649.

But the oldest documentation is Juan Diego's tilma. Hadden wholly ignored it in his story. If you're going to report a one sided story, the easiest way is to ignore the other side's strongest argument.

A tilma is a garment worn by Amerinds at the time of Juan Diego. It was made of a poor cactus cloth and had a life of about 20 years.

When Juan Diego removed the roses from his tilma at the Bishop's house, an image of the Lady appeared on the tilma. The Bishop took it and hung it in the sanctuary of his church. It's been on continuous public display for 471 years.

Scientific study of the image began in 1756 when a painter, Miguel Cabrera, published his study of the image. Links to other scientific studies are here. In brief, the examiners can't explain the image - it's not paint - nor can they explain the long life of the cloth.

It's a mystery that's almost 500 years old. But the greater mystery is why an experienced reporter for a national network would do such a poor job of reporting the issues. I wonder who gave NPR the grant for the report.

Maybe that's a campaign we can conduct. Force NPR to disclose who pays for each report so we can examine it for signs of bias.

News and Opinion  

(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren