Friars Appreciate Spirit of Our Lady of Guadalupe Commemorations

HNP Communications Friar News

As Holy Name Province parishes, like many around the country, become more diverse, and the number of Spanish Masses grows, celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the holiest feast day in the Mexican Church year, are also increasing.

At Dec. 12 feast day Masses, churches throughout the Province were filled with lively song, mariachi music, mananitas (songs to Mary), colorful banners, parades and processions, overnight celebrations, early morning breakfasts, and ethnic food. Many children came to church in costume.

Lawrence Hayes, OFM, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, N.C., described the festivities this way: “It sets loose a tsunami of excitement and devotion, celebration and fervor that floods the parish with a religious intensity that is palpable.”

The feast day is the most distinctive religious holiday in the Mexican Church calendar, commemorating the appearance of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego in 1531. Hispanic Catholics in Holy Name Province parishes fully embrace this day.

“If you would have told me 20 years ago that I’d be leading Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations, I would have said you were crazy,” said Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor of St. Mary Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J.

Frank, who celebrated his second Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day at this parish, said he never thought he would ever lead a parish with such a large Hispanic community, but that is the reality of the Catholic Church now.

St. Mary’s Anglo parishioners also turned out in force for the Mass, he said, embracing the changing culture of the Church and supporting their fellow Hispanic parishioners.

Gonzalo de Jesus Torres-Acosta, OFM, who ministers at Pompton Lakes and to the Latino community in Butler, said approximately 800 people attended each Mass at St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s.

“I loved it,” said Frank. “I think the turnout says a lot for St. Mary’s Parish. The population of immigrants has grown rapidly in this area, and this parish has responded to the community need, starting back when Michael Carnevale, OFM, was pastor. Now we offer a Hispanic Mass every Sunday.”

Gonzalo added that this year, the feast day was celebrated on a weekday, which allowed more Hispanic parishioners to attend. Many, he said, can’t come to church on Sunday because they work. “Our parishioners love it,” he said. “Mass was packed. Our parishes see it as a great celebration of our Latino community.”

Lawrence said the day ignites a mixture of national and Catholic pride among the Mexicans, who comprise the majority of Immaculate Conception’s Latino population. “They flock to the church in vast numbers to visit ‘la Morenita,’ seeking both her maternal protection and blessing, and the opportunity to venerate her,” he said.

He continued: “This year, as is the custom here, people began arriving at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the eve of the feast, bringing flowers for the Virgin, along with images and statues of Guadalupe, and candles to be blessed. The crowd swelled as midnight neared until the church was overflowing. Musical groups, singers, and poets saluted Mary with the mañanitas and delighted the people with a variety of entertainment from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. when a Mass was celebrated.”

In the morning, breakfast was served, and the church doors were open throughout the day on Wednesday as people dropped by to pray and leave flowers for Mary. At 5 p.m., the crowds returned for a procession through the neighborhood streets with a statue of Guadalupe borne aloft, a flatbed float with live actors representing Juan Diego, the bishop and the Virgin, and indigenous dancers moving to the rhythm of a drum corps.

“The spirit of party, prayer, pride, piety, penance, patriotism and faith intertwined in the liturgy to cap off a truly ‘holy’ day in the lives of our Mexican brothers and sisters. What a privilege to share in their special devotion, so deeply linked to their very identity as a people,” said Larry.

The feast day may be especially important to Franciscans, because the bishop in 1531, when Juan Diego saw the vision, was a Franciscan, according to Larry’s parish bulletin. It read: “Every year on Dec. 12, pilgrims stream to the Basilica of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Mexico. In 1531, the Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego. She spoke to Juan with affection and gave him a message for the local bishop. At first the bishop, who was a Franciscan, did not believe Juan Diego. Mary led Juan Diego to a special place where roses were blooming out of season. Juan Diego presented the roses to the bishop, who then accepted the message.”

The feast day is also marked by the International Run Carrera Antorcha Guadalupana Mexico-New York, a relay run from Mexico City to New York with runners carrying a torch. In the past, relay runners have stopped at Holy Name churches on their way to New York.

Some of the parishes that held feast day celebrations include St. Mary of the Angels in Anderson, S.C., which was featured in the Whispers in the Loggia blog, along with St. Paul’s, Wilmington, Del.; Sacred Heart, Tampa, Fla.; St. Camillus, Silver Spring, Md.; St. Anthony of Padua, Camden, N.J.; St. Bonaventure, Paterson, N.J.; and Holy Name of Jesus, New York, N.Y.

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.