Published diciembre 18, 2008 | Available In English
Laying brightly colored flowers at the foot of a shrine, parishioners gathered in the sanctuary of St. Michael Church Friday, Dec. 12, to celebrate a bilingual Mass in honor of Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Parochial vicar Father Thad Rudd, bearing the image of the Guadalupe icon on his chasuble, preached to the crowd of people, most of whom were Spanish-speaking.
“Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said the priest. “She will help us be what Jesus wants us to be.”
Father Rudd, who was assisted by a translator, went on to recount the story of St. Juan Diego and also explained how the land of Mexico, then a part of the Spanish empire, was in a troubled state at the time of the Blessed Virgin’s appearance.
“She came to Mexico when it was in trouble,” he said. “And she comes to us today.”
“Let us pray that we will all be one,” Father Rudd said, because Our Lady of Guadalupe is the mother of “all America.”
A large Hispanic band highlighted the message of the Mass, bringing melodic Marian hymns and lively rhythms to the church.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is also known as the “Virgin of Guadalupe,” is a title given to Mary in the 16th century after she appeared to an Indian peasant.
According to tradition, during a walk from his village to the city on Dec. 9, 1531, a man named Juan Diego saw a vision of the Virgin Mary at the Hill of Tepeyac. Speaking in Nahuatl, a dialect of Aztecan, the young woman asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor.
When Diego spoke to the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the bishop asked him for a miraculous sign to prove his claim. The Blessed Virgin asked Diego to gather some flowers at the top of Tepeyac Hill, even though it was winter when no flowers bloomed.
Diego found Castilian roses at the site and gathered them to bring to the bishop. When he presented the roses to Bishop Zumárraga, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe miraculously appeared imprinted on the cloth of his ”tilma,” or cloak.
While the Virgin of Guadalupe has always been spiritually close to the people of Latin America, particularly the Mexican people, popes have reminded all in North and South America that she is significant to them. She has been given the title “Patroness of the Americas.”
A basilica dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe was first built in Mexico City in 1709 and then built again between 1974 and 1976, as the previous one suffered structural problems.
The basilica, which is built near the spot where the Virgin appeared, holds the cloak with the original image of Mary. It is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world and receives millions of pilgrims each year, especially at the time of the feast.
The Mass at St. Michael Church was one of the many Guadalupe events that took place there on the weekend of Dec. 12, as well as across the archdiocese.
The celebration of the feast day actually began nine days prior, when the community at the Gainesville parish came together nightly for a rosary to complete a novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
St. Michael’s weekend festivities began the evening of Thursday, Dec. 11, with native Mexican dances and live music. The celebration lasted throughout the night.
Father Fabio Sotelo, pastor of St. Michael Church, said the late-night celebrations are in keeping with Mexican traditions, as the people want to welcome the feast day as soon as it arrives.
The community also enjoyed authentic Mexican dishes as well as personal testimonies from parishioners as they honored Mary in the early morning of Dec. 12.
As the sunlight began to peek into the large, open sanctuary, St. Michael Church celebrated the first of several Masses on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The 5 a.m. Mass was followed by mañanitas, a music performance from an authentic mariachi band, which set the festive tone that would be celebrated throughout the rest of the weekend.
Three more Masses were celebrated on the feast day, including a 7 p.m. Mass where most of the children of the parish were present.
“It was a beautiful Mass,” said Father Sotelo. “There were hundreds of children there and … they gave flowers to Mary.”
The children placed roses near the shrine of the icon at the front of the church, adding to the hundreds of flowers already placed by other parishioners.
St. Michael’s Guadalupe celebration concluded with two Masses on Saturday morning. During the first Mass, Father Sotelo baptized 22 new Catholics. At the second Mass, he married eight couples.
The Gainesville parish was one of more than 50 parishes and schools that held events in honor of the feast day.
From Ellijay to Jonesboro, people of different ethnicities came together to celebrate the “Mother of all the Americas” in a variety of ways.
Many communities held bilingual or Spanish Masses, while others celebrated with receptions and live concerts.
Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn, held four Masses on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 12, to accommodate the large number of Catholics who wanted to celebrate the feast day. The community held three Masses the following day and also enjoyed live music and dancers.
“I believe that the majority of Hispanic Catholics in the archdiocese are of Mexican origin,” said Father Fernando Molina Restrepo, administrator of the mission.
“The Mexican Catholics are very devoted to the Blessed Mother,” he added. “It is a devotion for all of us.”
Father Sotelo agrees.
“Mary is the one who said ‘yes’ to God,” said Father Sotelo, noting that because of her, Jesus was brought into the world. He said this is why Our Lady has such a broad appeal.
“But Mary is not too strong in our country,” said Father Sotelo.
“They are bringing Mary back into the country,” he said about those celebrating the feast day.