"Some people called the police because they confused us for ISIS terrorists. Seven police cars came and surrounded us with guns," he said. "Nervous and afraid ... we asked them, 'Why are you doing this to us? We come in the peace of Jesus Christ.'" After this, the police apologized, and told the friars that they could stay as long as they wanted.
Friar Juan is currently studying for the priesthood in Rome, and hopes he will be ordained in a few years. He said his vocation was confirmed for him after an experience he had during one of his face surgeries.
At 14 years old, Juan had a skin graft taken from his back to enable him to move his neck. After the operation, complications from anesthesia caused his EKG to flatline in the recovery room – his heart had stopped.
During this time, he had an out-of-body experience. "I saw my body when the doctor tried to work to help me come back to life … from above," he explained.
"At the same time, two wings – well they were something like an angel – they took me to this place, like a very beautiful place. I saw Mama Mary and I saw Jesus Christ," he said.
"Jesus Christ was on his throne. He had very brilliant white clothes," he continued.
"With an amazing smile, Mary said, 'My son, it is not your time because you have a mission to complete on the earth'," he said. "After she talked to me, I came back quickly."
"This changed everything in my life," Friar Juan said. "Through this beautiful vision, I understood that we only stay for a little time in this world. I understood that we need to live a moral life. I believe that hell exists, and I know that paradise and purgatory exist."
To this day, he maintains a devotion to Mary – and to the Eucharist.
"When I pray in my life and I take the Eucharist, I say something to God through Mary. I say, 'Mary, help me because I do not want my heart to become a rock. I want a heart of flesh, a simple, open heart.'"
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.