Little girls resplendent in the garb of Latin America walked up the aisle to bring red, white and yellow roses to their beloved Our Lady of Guadalupe. Boys wearing vests emblazoned with the Virgin Mary shook maracas as they performed an Aztec dance. Mariachis in black sombreros played in the sanctuary near the framed replica of the image of the Blessed Mother that appeared nearly 500 years ago to the peasant San Juan Diego.
About 1,000 Hispanics turned out at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland, on Dec. 14 for the annual archdiocesan Mass celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Octavio Colin, a parishioner of the Catholic Community of St. Michael and St. Patrick, Fells Point, summed up the sentiments of many.
“It’s important to the church in America to never forget that tradition,” said Mr. Colin, who emigrated from Mexico. “We try to teach the kids to never forget what it’s all about.”
Veneration of the Blessed Mother runs in the family. Mr. Colin came with six of his sons and one daughter. He beamed as his son Gabriel, 5, wore a headdress and performed a dance that dates to the days when the Spanish crown came and built Catholic churches atop Aztec temples.
At the cathedral, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien served as the primary celebrant, and Washington Auxiliary Bishop Francisco Gonzalez delivered the homily in Spanish. Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski concelebrated, along with priests from churches in the archdiocese.
Bishop Gonzalez said it was no accident that the Virgin Mary appeared with “mestizo” facial features and clothing – a mix of European and native. This, the bishop said, signified that she was not only Indian, nor only European, but embraced both.
In the decade after her apparition, Bishop Gonzales said, more than 9 million natives became Christian.
Our Lady of Guadalupe brought Christianity to the Latinos as the Spanish invaders never could, said Georgina Vaca, the archdiocese’s coordinator of Hispanic young adult and youth ministry.
“The faith was imposed on the natives in a very harsh way,” she said. “There is huge veneration of Our Lady because of the fact that she speaks to this peasant in a very loving and affirming way.”
The Blessed Mother appeared on Dec. 12, 1531, to San Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill near present-day Mexico. She requested a church be built on the site, but a bishop expressed doubt about the apparition and asked for a sign.
She produced roses, not native to the area, growing on a hill in mid-December, and when San Juan presented them to the bishop, an image of Our Lady miraculously appeared on his tilma, or cactus cloth cloak. The tilma, now at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, still shows no deterioration even though the garments normally last only 20 years.
Baltimore’s celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe began Dec. 4, with Hispanics, including Mr. Colin, carrying a torch from Baltimore to Delaware. (The torch, which began its journey in Guadalupe, reached St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Dec. 12.) Parishes in the archdiocese also celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe Masses on the feast day.
Sister Sonia-Marie Fernandez, of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, said the cathedral Mass has grown in popularity since it started 13 years ago. She pointed to girls, roses in hand, wearing not only Mexican clothing but also dressed in that of Peru, Guatemala and El Salvador. And the boys now dress up not only as little Juan Diegos (complete with tiny mustaches) but also the Aztecs who resisted evangelization before the first apparition of the Virgin Mary on the North American continent.
Hence, Pope John Paul II designated the Blessed Mother the “Virgin of the Americas.”
“We reach out to all Hispanics and other people, too, because she’s of the Americas,” Sister Sonia-Marie said. “So it’s the way of evangelization of hope that she is our mother and she cares for us.”
Maria Johnson, director of the archdiocese Office of Hispanic Ministry and a native of Peru, said Our Lady came to bring Christ’s love to the Americas and reassurance to its peoples of her protection.
“Today, as in 1531, we need her evangelizing presence among us Hispanics as a new mestizo culture is being forged in the United States, where Hispanics, Anglos, African-Americans and all cultures may find in the mother of God the mother of a new America,” she said.
After the Mass, parents lined up to snap photos in front of the framed image of the Blessed Virgin.
Many took a rose, a memory of a miracle.