When the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous peasant in 1531 near Mexico City, she brought hope to a country that was ravaged by war and strife.
Today, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 is a celebration that remains both meaningful and festive for the Hispanics at Holy Name Province’s parishes. The feast day holds significance for a variety of reasons, according to Christopher Posch, OFM, director of Hispanic ministries for the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.
Christopher said that to best understand the significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, people should consider the feast’s historical context. It’s also helpful to note, he said, that the bishop at the time was Juan de Zumárraga, OFM, a Franciscan, making the feast day that much more significant to churches of the Order.
Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared in 1531, when Mexico was recovering from the Spanish conquest. “Mexico was a mess,” said Chris. “There were many orphans and widows. It was comparable to Sept. 11. This was Mexico’s darkest night.”
But that’s when the Virgin appeared, bringing an important message of love and God’s faithfulness, he added. She gave them hope, he said, and also showed Mexicans that Our Lady was for all people. Dressed in native clothing, Mary had dark skin and looked indigenous.
Her message was, “Soy como tú,” or, “I’m just like you.” She also told Mexico to rebuild the Church, after 500 churches around Tepayac were destroyed in the conquest.
A Message for All
Chris, who lives at St. Paul’s Friary in Wilmington, celebrated the feast day with six parishes around the diocese. He was also in the crowd when the Our Lady of Guadalupe torch stopped at St. Paul’s Church on Dec. 5. Every year, the torch is carried from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, with stops at local parishes along the way. More than 30 parishioners from St. Paul’s took part in the run from Baltimore to Wilmington, according to pastor Todd Carpenter, OFM.
“When the pilgrims arrived with the torch, they were greeted and welcomed by the parishioners,” said Todd. “We had a dinner in the church hall, and attended Mass afterward. The torch departed St. Paul’s the following afternoon.”
Churches are always filled with hundreds of roses for the feast day, and St. Paul’s was no exception. “The Mass attendance on both days was standing room only, about 1,000 people each night,” Todd added. Both Masses included Mexican dancers and mañanitas, Mexican songs of praise to Our Lady. “It’s also customary on both nights for people to bring images of Our Lady of Guadalupe to have them blessed after Mass. We must have blessed hundreds of images.”
Holy Name Parish in New York City also saw the torch runners as they made their way through Manhattan. The Upper West Side community celebrates the Guadalupe feast as a triduum, according to Lawrence Ford, OFM. A prayer service centered on the praying of the rosary, the traditional mañanitas were sung, and a Mexican breakfast was held before celebrating Sunday’s Spanish Mass.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Raleigh, N.C, celebrated the feast day, but in a small way for its 50 or so Hispanic parishioners, said Steven Patti, OFM, pastor. The parish celebrated a Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe at 9 p.m. on Dec. 11.
Prayers and Processions
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, two parishes — St. Anthony’s in Butler and St. Mary’s in Pompton Lakes — celebrated with processions around town, according to Gonzalo de Jesus Torres-Acosta, OFM.
St. Mary’s parishioners gathered on Dec. 7, the Sunday before the feast, for a 6 a.m. procession to Pompton Lakes, beginning at the doors of St. Anthony.
“Escorted by the Knights of Columbus from St. Mary’s and police cars, we crossed four towns: Butler, Bloomingdale, Riverdale and Pompton Lakes,” said Gonzalo. “We stopped for prayers at 16 different stations, where more and more people joined the march. At 8:30 a.m., we arrived at the door of the Carnevale Center at St. Mary’s, where our pastor, Frank Sevola, OFM, joined us on our way to the church. We began our bilingual Eucharistic celebration at 9 a.m., with Frank as presider, and Richard Husted, OFM, and I as concelebrants.”
He continued: “The opening procession was led by an army of Latino men and women carrying national flags from all the Americas and the Philippines. They were followed by dozens of little Juan Diegos and many women wearing their traditional dresses. A mariachi band and our music director Craig Limey performed. The atmosphere was prayerful, festive and joyful. The church was crowded. Our hearts filled with hope as we celebrated the 483rd anniversary of the Virgin’s appearance to the indigenous peasant named Juan Diego.”
St. Anthony’s parishioners processed around the streets of Butler on the feast itself, beginning at 4 a.m. The procession ended with a simple breakfast.
Chris emphasized the importance of the feast in a reflection. “As Guadalupe is a source of strength and consolation to the poorest of the poor in Latin America, she’s a source of comfort to new Latino immigrants in our Province and throughout the North. They are often working in conditions of slavery and longing for their home villages, and to be awakened by church bells and roosters singing and the sounds of their mothers patting and shaping homemade tortillas.”
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.