Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Jonesboro Parish Becomes Tepeyac For A Day

Published January 6, 2005  | En Español

The Catholic faithful of Mexico embraced their brethren in Atlanta during the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Philip Benizi Church on Sunday, Dec. 12.

“We join all who celebrate this feast, especially those who are gathered at the Tepeyac in Mexico, and today we make St. Philip’s the Tepeyac of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Bishop Antonio Pérez Sánchez, OFM, of El Nayar, Mexico, to the hundreds of faithful gathered for the Mass.

“We thought we were bringing presents to Our Lady for her feast day, but it is the Blessed Mother who brings us the gift of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, in the Eucharist,” said the bishop, who expressed his gratitude for being able to celebrate the religious holiday for the third time at St. Philip Benizi.

In an interview with The Georgia Bulletin, Bishop Pérez expressed gladness at seeing how his fellow citizens strive to keep their traditions. He also called for tolerance and respect of all races that converge in the United States.

“It seems hard for us in the church to understand the word ‘tolerance,’ but it’s a very significant part of our Christian responsibility. Tolerance means to accept others,” the bishop said. “This is a diverse society, and all Christians are called to commit themselves to living this value in our world.”

In his homily, he said the search for holiness should be the goal of all who believe in Christ. Through holiness, he said, people find the hope that helps them cope with the problems of life.

“To be holy means to transform the society we live in with the strength of the Gospel, so we can respect everyone’s human rights and find peace,” Bishop Pérez said.

Under The Protection Of Our Lady Of Guadalupe

According to a 2003 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2000 to 2002 the Hispanic population in Georgia grew 17 percent, faster than any other state in the nation. Atlanta also experienced the fastest Hispanic growth rate among the nation’s 20 most populated metropolitan areas.

While the number of Hispanic people in the state approaches the half million mark, almost 300,000 of them are of Mexican origin. Most come here for work to help their families back in Mexico, and they find comfort in festivities such as the one at St. Philip’s.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe is the protector of all Hispanics, particularly Mexicans. We present all our intentions to her, no matter what situations we face,” said Matiana Ríos, who has coordinated the celebration at St. Philip Benizi for the last 15 years.

“For those who had to leave their mothers and families behind, Our Lady becomes the mother they hold on to strongly,” she added.

At St. Philip Benizi, the observance incorporates both religious and cultural elements. The organizing committee makes an effort to include traditional Mexican details, “to bring a little piece of our homeland,” said Ríos. And they literally do, as some parishioners travel to Mexico every year to buy ornaments, clothes and materials that will be used during the event.

One component of the liturgical celebration is the reenactment by members of the parish of the apparition at Tepeyac hill. For Leopoldo Vargas Vásquez, it has been an honor to play the role of Juan Diego during the last three years.

“We want to bring to life Our Lady’s apparition, so people are able to understand it better,” the actor explained. “Personally, this means a lot to my family, as we are strong believers in Our Lady of Guadalupe. We have received many graces, such as the strengthening of our family bonds, which I consider one of the main blessings.”

Of all aspects of the Guadalupe story, the one that has caught his attention the most is the fact that the Blessed Mother did not choose a powerful figure to send her message, but a humble indigenous person instead.

“She underscored the virtue of humility. She set an example by appearing to a humble peasant instead of an authority figure, such as the bishop, and that should be a model to follow,” Vargas said. “These days, humility is not given the importance it deserves. I think that our presentation emphasizes that virtue.”

Folk Dances In Honor Of Our Lady

Among the highlights of the celebration was the participation of the Auiani-Yoli Folk Dance Company, whose main goal is to preserve and teach about Mexican traditions. During Mass, members of the group, dressed as Aztec Indians, venerated the Virgin with Aztec dances. They addressed the Blessed Mother with words in nahuatl, the indigenous dialect used by Mary to contact Juan Diego.

Carlos Vizcarrondo, member of Auiani-Yoli, explained that each of the dances ends with the word “Tonantzin!” in nahuatl. That’s how Aztecs honored their “mom” (inantzin), whom they regarded as the giver of life.

“For Aztecs, water, fire, wind and earth were the four elements that shaped life. The sun represented the Almighty,” Vizcarrondo said.

When the dance finished, the performers retreated by walking backwards, always facing the image.

“In pre-Hispanic culture, people never turned their backs on a deity, an element they considered a giver of life,” said Auiani-Yoli’s director, Juan Lozano Serrano. “In this case, we are honoring our mother tonantzin, where life originates, and we don’t turn our back but we face her with humility, with all the love we can show her.”

As a matter of fact, that’s the way Mexicans leave the Basilica of Guadalupe after venerating the image impressed in Juan Diego’s ayate, or cloak, which is on permanent display there.

For the members of Auiani-Yoli, coming to Atlanta each year represents an opportunity to share their faith.

“This is a very important day for Mexico, it’s our national holiday. Everybody sings, everybody dances and all offer their prayers because, above all, we need our Mother’s protection,” said Lozano Serrano. “It’s a way to show her our gratefulness and that ‘old’ Mexican traditions are still alive in our culture.”