Guadalupe Feast Reminds Church of its Mission

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With festivities, prayers, songs and joy of the faithful, parishes throughout the Province that are home to large numbers of Latino parishioners celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.

The age-old tradition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Mary, who spoke to Juan Diego, a poor Aztec Indian in Mexico in 1531, in his own language, continues to have a strong message for Catholics, especially with the country’s growing number of Hispanic Catholics, especially Mexican-Americans, who hold Our Lady very dear.

“It’s important to celebrate this feast because Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke — literally and figuratively — to the people with a face that they can relate to,” saidJud Weiksnar, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Camden, N.J. “Don’t we all seem to relate better to those who come from a common background? If Mary spoke to me wearing a Buffalo Bills jacket, I’d probably relate better to her than if she were wearing Dallas Cowboys gear,” he said with a smile.

Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, guardian of St. Camillus Church Friary in Silver Spring, Md., agrees that the vision of Our Lady and the message she brought rings true 480 years later, especially for Franciscans. “She challenges the Church to strengthen her efforts in defending poor and vulnerable members of the community of life, both human and non-human,” he wrote in an entry on Acting Franciscan, the Franciscan Action Network’s blog.

Jacek pointed out the symbolism and cosmic undertones of Our Lady, as she first appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico, calling him “Little Son.” The symbolism is a big part of today’s Hispanic celebrations, including adorning church altars with flowers. According to Jacek, Our Lady of Guadalupe, in addition to being the first and most perfect of Christ’s disciples, also represents the Church and the destiny of all creation, a message that resonates with Franciscans.

Throughout the Province, ministries — many of which are home to Hispanic parishioners — celebrated the feast day in a variety of ways. Some parishes began the commemoration days before the feast day, two even welcoming the annual Guadalupan Torch Race.

Running of the Torch
St. Paul Church in Wilmington, Del., where Todd Carpenter, OFM, is pastor, welcomed the famous torch of Our Lady on Dec. 6. The torch relay starts its annual journey at the Basilica of Our Lady in Mexico City, Mexico, in October, and is carried to New York City for the Dec. 12 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This is the second year that St. Paul hosted the torch on its way to New York, holding a parish supper for the runners, followed by 7 p.m. Mass.

The day before, the torch had come through Durham, N.C., where parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church participated in the procession. Many people of Mexican heritage were part of the event, according to the Durham News Observer.

On the weekend of Dec. 11, more than 2,000 people from the multicultural parish of Immaculate Conception participated in Guadalupe festivities, according to staff member Katushka Olave. She said roughly 65 percent of parishioners are immigrants, a majority of whom hail from Mexico.

“It is a blessing for our parish that the friars are so involved,” Olave noted. William McIntyre, OFM, concelebrated a feast day Mass on Sunday with Lawrence Hayes, OFM, and Daniel McLellan, OFM.

Runners carrying the torch stayed overnight at St. Paul’s parishioners’ homes before continuing their journey north, according to Christopher Posch, OFM, director of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Wilmington.

In Silver Spring, Md., parishioners of St. Camillus, processed on Saturday evening through the streets of the neighborhoods with the statue of our Lady of Guadalupe. This was followed by Mass and a reception at which the Utopia Franciscana, one of the Latino young adult groups, “presented a very creative play on the Guadalupe event along with an acted-out, contemporary interpretation of what the 16th century apparition and its message mean for us in the XXI century,” said Jacek.

On Sunday, a group of Latino Justice and Peace leaders from St. Camillus were to be interviewed at the local Latino radio station on the subject of Our Lady of Guadalupe and environmental justice, Jacek said.

Michael Tyson, OFM, of Holy Name of Jesus Church in New York City, said the parish, where one-third of the parishioners are Hispanic, commemorated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a triduum Dec. 8 to 10. On Saturday, the church, decorated with a large picture of Our Lady and many flowers, was vibrant at 6 a.m. with las mañanitas, Spanish songs.

On Sunday morning, at least 100 runners from Holy Name went downtown to St. Bernard’s-Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to carry a torch back to Holy Name on the city’s Upper West Side. Michael, who said the parish started its own torch relay between the two churches some 10 years ago, blessed the runners on their arrival and Mass began immediately after. Following communion, approximately 20 babies and older children were presented to the Lord. A reception was held for the runners and their families after Mass.

Jud Weiksnar said the celebration in Camden began with mañanitas for Our Lady of Guadalupe at 4 a.m. on Sunday, followed by Mass at 5 a.m. complete with a mariachi choir and tamales in the church basement at 6 a.m. Since the church is 90 percent Hispanic, another Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass took place at 9:30 a.m. On Monday, the youth group Huellas from El Salvador performed a music/dance/prayer presentation la Morenita in the church.

St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J., began celebrations on the evening of Dec. 11 with the rosary in church This was followed by a festive gathering in the church hall that included food, music, and a movie about the tilma, the cloth with the image of the Virgin Mary.

“The next day, we celebrated a bilingual Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Christopher VanHaight, OFM. “Participating in the Mass was the senior enrichment group whose members celebrated an Advent Day of Reflection focused on Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Celebrating at Packed Churches
In South Carolina, Aubrey McNeil, OFM, pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church, in Anderson, said the parish began the celebration of the feast of Our Lady Guadalupe at 8 p.m. on Dec. 11 with the rosary, followed by preaching, prayer and singing. At 10 p.m., Aubrey said, the “Drama of the Apparitions” was played out, followed by the mañanitas.

“The church was full to overflowing when we started the celebration of the Eucharist at midnight,” said Aubrey, who celebrated the Mass. “Henry Fulmer, OFM, from nearby St. Joseph Church, and deacon Gabriel Cuevas, the head of Catholic Charities for the upstate region, were deacons for the Mass. Cuevas, a Mexican national, was the preacher. We left the church at the end of Mass to gather outside under the full moon in a temperature of 40 degrees to complete the celebrations with eating and drinking and guitar playing. We finished up around 2:30 a.m.”

Frank Sevola, OFM, pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J., presided for the first time at the church’s Our Lady celebration. He said in his Pastor’s Desk column in the Dec. 18 parish bulletin that “I was awestruck by the celebration.” With flowers, songs and prayers, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe started early on the very cold morning of Sunday, Dec. 11.” According to Gonzalo de Jesus Torres-Acosta, OFM, roughly 150 worshippers from St. Mary’s Church got together for a procession.

“We began our walk with Guadalupe, la Morenita at 6:30 a.m. by the door of St. Anthony Parish in Butler. Escorted by police cars, we crossed four towns: Butler, Bloomingdale, Riverdale and Pompton Lakes,” said Gonzalo. “We stopped for prayers at three 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 several Knights of Columbus from our parish joined us on our way to the entrance of the church.

olg-r“Our bilingual Eucharistic celebration began at 9 a.m.,” said Gonzalo, who concelebrated. “The opening procession was led by an army of Latino men and women from all over Latin America, 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. Aztec and Colombian dancers and our main Anglo and Latino choirs performed. The atmosphere was prayerful, festive and joyful. The church was crowded and hearts filled with hope, as we celebrated the 480th anniversary of the Virgin’s appearance.”

The festivities continued with dancing, music and free tamales at the Carnevale Center and concluded with the traditional mañanitas and singing to Mary at 11 p.m., he said.

St. Anthony Parish in Butler, where Michael Jones, OFM, is pastor, celebrated the feast on Dec. 12, beginning with mañanitas at 4 a.m. The church was packed with parishioners from Mexico and many other Latin American and South American countries for 5 a.m. Mass. Afterward, parishioners processed around the town from 6 to 7:15 a.m. As at many HNP parishes, the celebration concluded with music and a simple breakfast.

— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is author of the book Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal after 9/11. Jocelyn Thomas contributed research to this report.