Our Lady of Guadalupe: a celebration of faith and culture

Barb Arland-Fye
Members of a Conesville dance troupe perform in Columbus Junction during an Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration Dec. 10 organized by St. Joseph Parish-Columbus Junction.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

COLUMBUS JUNCTION — Thirteen-year-old Juandiego Guev­ara knelt in a flatbed trailer behind a pickup truck, portraying the indigenous peasant for whom he is named and whose encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary led to the conversion of millions.

Kneeling for an hour in the flatbed trailer with another youth portraying a bishop, as both kept their eyes fixed on the girl portraying Our Lady, was a little uncomfortable. “It was super cold!” Juandiego said. However, he felt honored to portray St. Juan Diego during the Dec. 10 procession from downtown Columbus Junction to the small town’s high school where participants celebrated Mass.

Two dance troupes exuded joy as they danced behind the trailer to rhythmic drumbeats and shaking maracas. The beads on their brilliant-colored costumes made a sound like softly falling rain. Juandiego said that if he had been a girl, his mother would have named him in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the title that St. Juan Diego said the Blessed Mother requested when she appeared to him nearly 500 years ago in Mexico.


Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day is Dec. 12 and many parishes with large Hispanic populations celebrate the feast day on that date or a couple of days earlier. St. John Paul II proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe “Patroness of the Americas” on Dec. 12, 1999.

Miraculous encounter

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe begins on a hill of Tepeyac, Mexico in 1531 where Juan Diego said Mary appeared to him and asked him to build a church on that spot. The archbishop to whom Juan Diego made that request dismissed the apparition and asked for proof the visit.

On Dec. 12, Diego returned to Tepeyac; Mary told him to pick flowers blooming atop the hill, normally barren that time of year, and to put them in his cloak to take to the archbishop. When Juan opened the cloak, non-native Castilian roses fell out and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe adorned his garment. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits on the hill of Tepeyac, a testimony to the faith that grew from that miraculous encounter. Today, it is a popular pilgrimage destination.

As the dance troupes from Conesville and West Liberty danced into the high school gym, which had been set up for Mass, the bleachers filled with the faithful. The gathering totaled around 300, “175% of our church seating capacity,” said Father Guillermo Trevino, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction. He also is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty.

The Columbus Junction parish hosted the Dec. 10 celebration with Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent and the feast day Mass late Dec. 11. The West Liberty parish also hosted a procession Dec. 10 and Mass. They celebrated Mass for the feast day on Dec. 12. “This is something Mexican people look forward to all year,” said Juan Lopez, a member of the Columbus Junction parish.

Barb Arland-Fye
Dancers perform at the high school gym in Columbus Junction as part of the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration Dec. 10.

Build on faith

As he began his homily (in Spanish), Father Trevino asked the gathering where they had come from. They shouted out Lone Tree, Iowa City, Washington, West Liberty, the Quad Cities, and Salvador, among other places. Two of the three Latin American women religious now serving the Columbus Junction and West Liberty parishes are from El Salvador. The third is from Mexico.

Father Trevino wanted to make a point about what it means to be Church, emphasizing that what brought the people to Mass that day “should bring them out here every week.” A small group of Columbus Junction parishioners worked tirelessly to bring the celebration to fruition. “Imagine what we could do if we all worked together,” he said. In Mark’s Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, “John the Baptist said we are nothing without God. With God, everything is possible,” the priest said in his homily. The story of St. Juan Diego is testament to that reality.

However, a once-a-year-celebration of faith is not enough. “Let’s grow that faith and keep learning about our faith,” Father Guillermo said. Among the people in attendance was his mom, who lives in the Quad Cities. “She really wanted to go. It means a lot for her to be here.”

The three women religious with the Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, a partnership of Catholic Extension and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, arrived in the area just two months ago. They expressed joy and hope after the Mass in Columbus Junction, sharing their thoughts through a translator as they helped serve a meal to the worshippers.

Mother of all

Sister Marielos of El Salvador was enthusiastic about the joy she witnessed, the faith of the Latin American people. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the mother of the Americans, “not only of Latinos, but of everybody.”

Sister Mara of Mexico described the “profound happiness” she felt in seeing that “the Mexicans have brought their traditions and their faith to the place where they live.” It is a living faith. She sees a “motive of unity and communion to celebrate our faith.” The celebration is a reminder that Mary is “mother to everyone.”

Sister Veronica of El Salvador appreciated the people’s ability to “share this live faith and to also be able to celebrate with a live Church.” She feels as if she has become a part of this culture. “They love God’s mother. The Virgin Mary is the one who prepares the road for us to go to Jesus.”

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