In these trying times, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beacon of hope for the littlest members of our society. In recognition of her feast day, the pastor of St. Paul Parish in Wilmington, Del., shares the hope that Our Lady gives the members of the community and the traditional ways in which they honor her.
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated each year on Dec. 12, commemorates the apparition of the Blessed Mother to Juan Diego, a 57-year-old Aztec Indian peasant. Our Lady appeared to Juan as an indigenous woman and spoke to him in his own indigenous language. She appeared to Juan Diego four times between Dec. 9 and 12 in 1531 on Tepeyac Hill located just north of Mexico City. Juan Diego, whose feast day is Dec. 9, was canonized by St. Pope John Paul II in 2002.
This is the only apparition where Our Lady left a miraculous image of herself, on the tilma (cloak) given to Juan Diego. The apparition is also unique in that Mary appeared pregnant instead of holding the infant Jesus. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of Mexico and the Americas. The feast day is one of the most popular religious celebrations in Mexico, Latin America and the United States. St. Juan Diego is the first indigenous saint from the Americas and holds a special place in the hearts of the Mexican people.
In Mexico, the celebration typically begins a week or more before the feast day. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the country — many traveling by foot — flock to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the outskirts of Mexico City. Novenas and rosaries are prayed daily in the days leading up to the feast. Many pilgrims approach the basilica on their knees as a sign of their great devotion to Our Lady. Throughout the United States, many parishes with Hispanic populations have festive celebrations leading up to the feast. Liturgical celebrations are often accompanied by performances of folkloric dancers and mariachi bands, dramatizations of the apparition, festive dinners after Mass, and the singing of Las Mañanitas (a serenade to Our Lady) until the late hours of the morning.
At St. Paul’s Church in Wilmington, Del., the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the biggest feast day of the year. Approximately 30 percent of the community at St. Paul’s is from Mexico and the remaining parishioners are from other Latin American countries. The celebrations in Wilmington begin the week before the feast, around Dec. 4 or 5, with the arrival of the Guadalupe torch. Various Guadalupe torches begin their journey at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and make their way to various parishes throughout the United States. The Guadalupe torch is accompanied by runners who are joined by other runners from the local parishes where the torch stops.
The torch that visits St. Paul’s begins its journey in Mexico City and visits numerous parishes in the South and makes its way up the East Coast to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. While in Delaware, the torch is accompanied by approximately 40 to 50 runners. They typically arrive at St. Paul’s around 5 p.m. and are welcomed on the front steps of the church by our Aztec Folkloric Dance Group and hundreds of parishioners. Shortly after the torch’s arrival, the runners are invited to a hot meal, typically pozole, a traditional Mexican hominy soup. The evening concludes with a rosary and Mass. The torch departs the following morning and heads to the next church.
Each evening the week prior to the feast day, the rosary is prayed in the homes of various parishioners. At St. Paul’s, the feast day is celebrated on Dec. 11 and 12. On both evenings, our church is filled to capacity, with many people standing. Approximately 1,000 pilgrims come each night from throughout Delaware. The rosary is prayed prior to Mass. Hundreds of children come dressed as Juan Diego or wearing traditional Mexican dress. Many families bring images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Juan Diego, or images of the Infant Jesus from their home nativity scenes and place them in front of the altar to be blessed during the Mass. Mariachis or a Mexican band provide the festive music for the liturgy. A special part of the Mass is the blessing of the children by the celebrant at the altar. The Mass typically concludes with a performance of the Chinelos folkloric dancers.
After Mass, the faithful are invited to the church hall for a Mexican dinner, a performance of by our Mexican folkloric dance group, and a dramatization of the apparition of Our Lady. Late in the evening, the faithful return to the Church to sing Las Mañanitas (a traditional serenade of the Blessed Mother), which often goes on well after midnight. The following day, Dec. 12, we repeat the same as we welcome even more people.
Our Lady of Guadalupe holds such a special place in the hearts of the Mexican people and many others throughout the world because she is a symbol of faith, hope and consolation. In 16th century Mexico, the apparition and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe offered a message of hope to the oppressed indigenous peoples of Mexico and a reconciliation with their Spanish rulers who treated the indigenous as outcasts. The apparition also saw the end of the human sacrifices of the Aztecs and worship of stone gods as millions of indigenous people converted to Christianity within a few years of the apparition.
Today, Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to be a symbol of faith, hope and consolation. In particular, in the aftermath of the recent presidential election that has left millions of immigrants and undocumented persons throughout the United States fearful of what may come to pass for them and their children, Our Lady of Guadalupe offers hope and consolation to the littlest of her children who feel powerless. Her apparition as an indigenous woman to the peasant Juan Diego indicates that God cares for those who are marginalized and struggling everywhere in the world.
From the message of Our Lady to Juan Diego in 1531: “Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: do not let it disturb you. Am I not here, I who am your Mother?”
— Fr. Todd has been pastor of St. Paul Parish in Wilmington, Del., since 2008.
- “Province Communities Celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe” – Dec. 23, 2015, HNP Today
- “St. Paul Community Marks Quarter Century of Franciscan Presence” – Dec. 9, 2015, HNP Today
- “St. Paul’s Parish Takes Faith to the Streets” – Aug. 14, 2014, HNP Today