In 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, on Tepeyac hill in Mexico, on December 9, 10 and 12. Identifying herself as the Mother of the One, True God, she instructed Juan Diego to have the local bishop build a church on the site of her appearance. As a sign of proof to the bishop, Juan Diego opened his tilma to reveal a flourish of roses and an image of Our Lady imprinted on the cloak.
Her message of love and promise of protection impelled the Aztec people to stop sacrificing their children to false gods, and the miracle of her appearance and Juan Diego’s cloak soon spread throughout Mexico, where she is venerated as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her image on the tilma continues to be visited by millions of pilgrims each year at her Basilica in Mexico City.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Americas, of Mexico, and of the unborn, and she is venerated with great love and affection by the Latino community, especially on her feast day, December 12.
Such an outpouring of love was illustrated in a spirited celebration on her feast day at St. Joseph Parish in Hanover, where upwards of 1,000 members of the Hispanic community gathered for the celebration of Mass followed by a fiesta.
With music, dress and cultural attire, individuals young and old gave utmost honor to Our Lady of Guadalupe, placing their personal statues and images of her before the altar – along with bouquets of flowers – where Bishop Ronald Gainer and several area priests concelebrated Mass.
Musicians played and sang Spanish hymns, as young girls wore red roses in their hair and dozens of young boys dressed as St. Juan Diego. During the Mass, which was celebrated entirely in Spanish, Bishop Gainer venerated a life-size image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and blessed the statues and images worshipers had placed before the altar.
Prior to the start of Mass, a traditional Aztec dance took place, honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe. After the liturgy, the celebration continued for several more hours, with a festive dinner featuring a Mariachi band, singing and dancing.
“The celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is much like Christmas and Easter for some Catholics. It’s not only a religious celebration, it’s also cultural,” said Father Michael Rothan, who ministers to Hispanic Catholics in the Hanover area.
Situated in an area that is home to a growing Hispanic population, which also offers religious education classes in Spanish, a Quinceañera program and Masses and other celebrations in Spanish. Its pastor is Msgr. James Lyons, who was a concelebrant at the Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Father Rothan was encouraged at the sight of hundreds of members of the Latino community filling the pews of the church for the Mass on December 12.
“A big concern of the parents – 95 percent of whom are Mexican – is that their children are not only not as interested in going to church, but also that they shy away from their heritage and want to be more American,” said Father Rothan. “To see all the people out there for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, especially so many teens and children, was encouraging.”
He spoke of the foundational work of his predecessor, Father Ignacio Palomino, in building up the community, and said the parish will continue the monumental task of serving the Latino community and providing what they need.
“In my time with this community, I have learned a lot about their culture. They have a strong work ethic as well,” said Father Rothan, pointing not only to their 12-hour work days and 7-day work weeks, but also their dedication to weekly gatherings for prayer and their work in organizing and facilitating retreats for upwards of 400 attendees.
December begins a month of tremendous celebration for the community, beginning with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe; followed by the nine-day Las Posadas commemorating Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; Christmas and the Feast of Epiphany, which culminates with a grand celebration and fiesta.
The celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadaulpe is one that intersects faith and culture.
The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego ten years after the end of the war between the Aztecs and the Conquistadors, and at a time when the native Aztecs were sacrificing the lives of their children in worship of the sun and the moon, Father Rothan explained.
“But then Our Lady appears with a message. Juan Diego opens his tilma and we see Mary’s image,” he said. “To a Catholic, they would have seen an image of Mary. To the Aztecs, it was like hieroglyphics. Her hair was straight, as a virgin’s would have been, and she wore a pregnancy belt, so they see a pregnant virgin. And her complexion was not just that of an Aztec, but also that of a Spaniard. She stands in front of the sun and on top of the moon, two gods who demanded human sacrifice. She says, ‘Don’t sacrifice your children anymore to a god who cannot save you. I gave my son, and God gives you His Flesh and Blood so that you can have life.’ It was a sign that everyone could understand in their own way,” Father Rothan said.
“Perhaps part of why Our Lady of Guadalupe is so celebrated is that we can still see the miracle,” he said of Our Lady’s image on Juan Diego’s cloak, which is at the Basilica in Mexico City. “We can see the tilma that is 500 years old and miraculously unchanged. It’s something people can connect with to this day,” he said.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness