NEW YORK — Hot tamales, mariachi bands, hundreds of winter roses and morning songs to Mary defined Mass last weekend, as parishes with large Hispanic populations throughout the Province celebrated the beloved feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As one of the most important dates on the Mexican calendar, the Dec. 12 feast marks the date in 1531 when Juan Diego saw a vision of the Virgin Mary instructing him to tell the bishop to build a church at Guadalupe. The feast is celebrated before the Christmas season officially begins on Dec. 16 in Mexico.
The feast day is equally important to the many Spanish-speaking Catholics in the United States, and was celebrated zealously throughout Holy Name Province by record crowds attending Mass.
Significant to Women & Children
The feast day is significant to the poor and to women, according to a recent church bulletin of St. Bonaventure Church in Allegany, N.Y., which explained the history of the commemoration. It said: “The mother of God brought a much brighter message, one of hope and compassion. Her appearance was a rebuke to the Spanish, and a consolation to the poor. She brought new dignity to the Aztec people, especially to women. In the seven years following her appearance, 8 million Aztecs were baptized.”
Daniel Kenna, OFM, at the largely Hispanic Holy Name of Jesus Church in Manhattan, helps put the feast’s significance in context for today. “The Virgin offers much-needed hope to immigrants, as many of them lack legal documentation to work in the United States,” wrote Daniel.
Each year, the feast is marked in Mexico as thousands of faithful Catholics make the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, where the miraculous image of la Virgen Morena and the tilma, the mantle cloak worn by Juan Diego during the vision, are kept. Made of two pieces of cactus cloth, the tilma has miraculously been preserved for almost five centuries. The story goes that Mary spoke to Juan, instructing him to tell the bishop to build a church. She then promised to help all those who would call on her at the church.
In Wilmington, Del.
On its way from Mexico City to New York City, stopping at churches along the way, the Guadalupe Torch arrived at St. Paul Church in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 5. St. Paul Parish in Wilmington has been a host church for several years, according to Todd Carpenter, OFM.
Approximately 25 runners, coming from Baltimore, arrived at St. Paul at about 5 p.m., greeted by the church’s Latino community. After a brief welcoming service, the church hosted dinner for the runners and guests. They also brought from Mexico (in a van) two large paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Juan Diego. “After the welcoming, the faithful spent time in private prayer in front of the two images,” said Todd, who moved to the parish this summer from another largely-Spanish parish in the Bronx, N.Y. The rosary and Mass followed at 8 p.m., with Christopher Posch, OFM, presiding. More than 400 people attended.
On Dec. 11, the Anticipatory Mass and las mañ anitas, traditional folk songs, took place to mark the feast day. Early in the day, members of the Mexican community decorated the church with a beautiful shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe adorned with hundreds of roses. The rosary took place at 7 p.m., followed by Mexican dancers. At the 8 p.m. Mass, presided by Todd, more than 600 people attended.
Dec. 12, the feast day, brought a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 to the church, according to Todd. Michael Tyson, OFM, presided at Mass. After Mass, all gathered for a traditional meal and more music, with the party continuing until midnight. St. Paul’s Young Adult Group performed a dramatization of the Apparition of Our Lady to Juan Diego.
In Camden, N.J.
St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden celebrated by welcoming its largest attendance of the year at the Dec. 14 Spanish Mass. Parishioners were dressed as Diego, wearing tilmas. A mariachi band replaced the regular Spanish choir for Mass, according to Jud Weiksnar, OFM, pastor. On the actual feast day, St. Anthony of Padua celebrated with mañanitas at 5 a.m. Then, parishioners gathered for tamales and hot chocolate.
Holy Name of Jesus Parish on the Upper West Side of Manhattan celebrated with similar enthusiasm. On Dec. 14, the church began with a traditional Guadalupana torch race throughout the streets of Manhattan.
As in the past, about 300 young men and women, mainly Mexicans, carried the Antorcha Guadalupana 82 blocks, from 14th Street to the church on 96th Street, according to Dan.
When they arrived at Holy Name, runners were greeted by the friars living in the friary, a mariachi band, dozens of women and children in traditional colorful costumes, and hundreds of parishioners from the surrounding English, Hispanic and French communities.
Mass took place at 10 a.m., and the celebration continued in the school auditorium, with dancers and musicians offering up their arts to Mary.
On Dec. 11 and Dec, 12, a Triduum was offered, and traditional mañanitas were sung at 6 a.m. on Dec. 13, followed by 9 a.m. Mass.
In Western New York
The Dec. bulletin of St. Bonaventure Church in Allegany, N.Y., recalled the significance of the feast day. It also explained why roses mark the occasion. The bulletin said: “Mary provided Juan with a sign to give to the bishop. She guided him to a spot where wild roses were blooming in winter. Diego gathered an armful of flowers to take to the bishop. When he arrived at the bishop’s house and opened his tilma, another miracle occurred. The image of Mary, as she appeared to him at Guadalupe, filled the tilma.”
The bulletin continues: “Since then, many miracles have been credited to her. Peace treaties have been signed in the church built in her honor. She is the patron of Mexico and the patroness of the Americas.”
Baptizing Six Million
Our Lady of Guadalupe teaches two important lessons, one of faith and one of understanding, according to www.Catholic.org, a Web site that describes saints and feast days.
It says, “Missionaries who first came to Mexico with the conquistadors had little success in the beginning… Whether they simply did not understand what the missionaries had to offer or whether they resented these people who made them slaves, Christianity was not popular among the native people.”
“Then in 1531, miracles began to happen. Jesus’ own mother appeared to humble Juan Diego. The signs — of the roses, of the uncle miraculously cured of a deadly illness, and especially of her beautiful image on Juan’s mantle — convinced the people there was something to be considered in Christianity. Within a short time, six million native Mexicans had themselves baptized as Christians.”
The photo above shows John Coughlin, OFM, of Camden, one of many friars who commemorated the feast.
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.