By Celine Klosterman
WASHINGTON — On Sunday, Hispanic Catholics celebrated what Father Troy Richmond called a “great miracle.”
The Blessed Mother appeared to the Aztec peasant St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in Mexico in 1531 to share the Good News with people who didn’t know of Jesus, the pastor noted in his Dec. 11 homily at St. James Church. “She is a messenger of hope for people in darkness,” letting them know of her son’s power to transform their suffering. “I hope you come to a deeper relationship with our Savior through her.”
Fr. Richmond celebrated Spanish Mass the day before the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a feast of great significance to people with Mexican heritage, said Silvia Cuevas. She is vice president of the Hispanic Committee of St. James Parish. That group organized Sunday’s celebration, which included singing of mañanitas, or birthday songs, to the Virgin Mary, a meal and a nearly 45-minute dance by the Conesville-based troupe La Danza San Judas Tadeo. In front of an image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, about 30 troupe members — adults, youths and children — wearing sequined green skirts and emerald head scarves shook maracas and danced to drumbeats. Their movements were a way to honor the Virgin Mary, said Lucy Schmidt, a parishioner who helped with St. James’ festivities. “There is lots of dancing when they celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.”
“It’s about keeping the tradition alive and bringing it over here,” Cuevas said. She said December is filled with celebrations of faith for Hispanic Catholics, beginning with a rosary that St. James parishioners pray for nine nights starting Dec. 2 in preparation for the Blessed Mother’s “birthday.” From Dec. 16-23, parishioners will take part in las posadas, re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem.
At church, Catholics often place flowers and small presents before an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and make prayerful requests of her, sisters Elxira and Enedina Rangel said during St. James’ festivities. Embracing a tradition of the feast day, the women had donned cream-colored dresses in the style of the native peoples of their home state, Michoacan in Mexico.
“Mary is the mother of all Mexicans,” Elxira Rangel said.
History of Our Lady of Guadalupe
According to tradition, the story of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe began when the Virgin Mary appeared in December 1531 to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec. She told him she wanted a church built on the site of her apparition — Tepeyac Hill. The local bishop asked for a sign confirming Juan Diego’s story, so Mary told the peasant to take flowers he gathered in winter to the bishop. After Juan Diego did so on Dec. 12, an image of her draped in a green, yellow-starred shawl appeared on his cloak, which he had gathered the flowers in. Mass conversions of native Mexicans followed.
St. Juan Diego was canonized in 2002. His cloak is housed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.