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Chávez concludes ND visit

Andrew Thagard | Thursday, April 1, 2004

Father Eduardo Chávez, a priest from Mexico City who served as the postulator for the canonization of Saint Juan Diego, concludes his visit to Notre Dame today.

Chávez, who has been ordered by the cardinal of Mexico City to found a Catholic university there, came to Notre Dame in part to tour the campus and meet with University President Father Edward Malloy. His action-packed visit also included presentations to theology classes and meetings to finalize the translation of his book titled “El Encuentro de la Virgin de Guadalupe y Juan Diego.” His visit was arranged by Father Virgilio Elizondo, a visiting theology professor, and the Institute for Latino Studies.

“This is my first time here and it surprised me,” Chávez said during a Thursday afternoon interview with The Observer in which Elizondo helped to translate. “My [meeting] with Father Malloy was wonderful.”

The proposed university, called La Universidad Católico Lumen Gentium, named after a Vatican II constitution placing greater emphasis on the people of God as the Church, is currently little more than a vision. Chávez, however, said that he hopes to start classes in education, history and law initially on the campus of a Catholic high school and begin construction of the university within five years. The proposed university will serve the needs of Mexico City’s middle and lower class residents, many of whom don’t have access to Catholic higher education. At the same time, it will be open to all people regardless of their economic status.

Chávez is unsure how the university will be funded but added that he is confidant everything will come together.

“I don’t know [about money] but I know Our Lady of Guadalupe and God will help us,” he said.

Chávez also credited his visit to Notre Dame and meeting with Malloy – a man he praised for his sense of humility – for providing him with a vision.

“For me this University is an inspiration,” he said. “We need the big vision and [we] need to go step by step … with a good sense of vision.”

Chávez also described his work on the canonization process of Juan Diego, a 16th century Native American who many believe witnessed visions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Jesus’ mother Mary, on a hill outside present day Mexico City.

Chávez got involved with the project by serving on a commission that extensively researched the historical Juan Diego. Later, Church officials asked him to serve as postulator, a position that involves investigating miracles attributed to the saint and acting as a bridge between the Mexican Church and the Vatican.

“[Participating in the canonization process] was the most beautiful thing in my life,” Chávez said, adding that the experience reaffirmed his decision to become a priest and historian. “Juan Diego was a man with a sense of great humility. [He] put himself totally in the hands of Our Lady to accomplish a mission.”

Chávez investigated one miracle in particular that helped propel Juan Diego to sainthood. On May 3, 1990 a young man in Mexico City decided to end his life by jumping off a three story balcony. His frantic mother tried unsuccessfully to pull him away but the man plunged head first into the pavement thirty feet below, Chávez said.

As her son was falling, the woman cried out to Juan Diego to save him. The young man remained conscious after the fall and started walking around. As he sat down, he began hemorrhaging and was rushed to a hospital via ambulance.

Doctors at the hospital, including expert neurologists, concluded that the man’s condition was terminal and they placed him in a non-critical care hospital ward, presumably to die, Chávez said. A few days later while Juan Diego was being beatified by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Santa Maria de Guadalupe, doctors discovered that the man’s cranium had almost healed. Three days later he walked out of the hospital, never having received treatment.

“It wasn’t anything beautiful,” Chávez said. “Most miracles are experiences people want to tell everyone [about] but he was ashamed because he [had] wanted to commit suicide.”

Chávez’s position as postulator also allowed him to get to know the Pope, a man he described as having a certain magnetism about him.

“When [His Holiness] smiles he looks right into your eyes and your whole soul is moved,” he said, praising the Pope for his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe whose image adorns his office and bedroom.

Chávez flies back to Mexico this afternoon after a four day visit to Notre Dame.