By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published December 26, 2022
SNELLVILLE—Gabriela Jimenez, outfitted in a white gown and veil and wearing pearls from her mother, walked down the aisle to her waiting husband of 11 years.
Jimenez and Jose Perez had been married in front of a judge but had never found the opportunity to solemnize it with a church ceremony.
In addition to its heartfelt significance for the couple, their wedding took place on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Prayer of thanksgiving
The couple had trouble getting pregnant five years ago. They turned to the Virgin Mary for her help. “She blessed us with a daughter. She’s almost four years old,” said Jimenez, 34, a restaurant manager.
The ceremony filled Perez with excitement and nerves. The marriage blessed by God is most important, said Perez, who wore a large ring with an image of the Virgin Mary.
The Dec. 12 feast is a major celebration among Hispanics, particularly Mexicans. In 1531, Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous Mexican named Juan Diego at a site that is now the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. She is known as the patroness of the Americas.
In the Atlanta Archdiocese, roughly half the Catholic population is Hispanic. Many parishes hosted colorful celebrations with mariachi bands, overnight prayer services and community events.
Women in dresses stepped down the church aisle escorted by parents, grown children or other family members. Waiting at the foot of the altar were the men, dressed in suits.
Seven couples received a church blessing, as they are already married. In addition, more than two dozen couples renewed their marriage vows in front of a crowded church.
Angelica Moyao, 39, walked with her two teenage sons on her arms. She and her husband, Vincente Marban, 48, had been invited by a friend to take part in the church wedding. They had long talked about it since getting married 20 years ago. They live in Washington, 86 miles away, but returned to the church where their first two children were baptized. Speaking in Spanish, Moyao said they decided to set an example for their children and to be able to receive the Eucharist.
The group wedding at St. Oliver Plunkett Church, Snellville, was a first, giving people a chance to receive the sacrament of marriage. Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini Imeri, bishop of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, led the ceremony.
After the couples exchanged vows, Cardinal Ramazzini Imeri blessed their clasped hands with holy water. The newlyweds shared gold coins between themselves, called arras, as a sign of God’s blessing and of the good gifts they will share. A looped rope draped the husband and wife symbolizing a lifetime of unity.
Father Cyriac Mattathilanickal, a La Salette priest, said weddings can draw couples draw closer to the church. Father Mattathilanickal, the pastor, said the parish wanted the couples to receive the grace of the sacrament while meeting them in the situation of their lives to build stronger connections to the faith.
Living like the Good Samaritan
The two-day feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings together friends and family at the parish, from Mexicans and El Salvadorans to Guatemalans and Americans.
Cardinal Ramazzini Imeri encouraged the faithful to aim to live as the good Samaritan.
“Catholics in the USA must remember that no one is a foreigner in the church and that at the end of our lives we will be judged by Jesus if we discover him present in the foreigners who come to our communities,” he said in a written statement.
Immigrants come to the United States to escape poverty, he said. Workers here in one hour earn the equivalent of a day’s pay in Guatemala, he said.
“The level of unemployment is very high, and the majority of the population is young. There is no future for them,” said the cardinal.
Parishioners of diverse cultures
In celebration of the feast, the image of the Virgin Mary was set outside the church doors Sunday, Dec. 11. Worshippers left roses at its base to honor Mary and in thanksgiving for answered prayers.
This year the celebration featured dancing horses, a dramatic re-creation of the 16th-century apparition, scores of Mexican folk and Aztec dancers with the headdress of peacock feathers, as well as authentic Mexican food and drink.
Maria Teodor, 52, ran the kitchen for the event. She and other cooks showed up for the morning shift at 8 a.m. on Sunday and did not expect to get home until the early hours of Monday. They prepared food for more than 1,000 people, along with different ministries sharing home-prepared Mexican dishes.
“It’s a very special day especially because the apparition was in my country,” said Teodor in Spanish.
At this parish, the celebration started with nine days of prayers leading to Dec. 12. Some 60 small images of the image of Our Lady were shared for worshippers to take as a small home shrine for prayer and then return for another family to borrow.
Nathaly Mandujano, 24, who works in customer relations, sold tickets for the popular food line. She’s been a parish member since she was a youngster and used to be a part of the Aztec dancers. She wears a necklace with the image of the Virgin Mary.
“God is the one and only, but we do pay a lot of respect to Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Mandujano.
The feast is not just for Mexicans and those with Mexican heritage, but is shared among the parish’s many Latinos and all its members, she said.
“With a diverse parish, I do feel supported. I do feel like I belong here,” she said.
Robert Deshommen, 68, agreed. He has worshipped at the Snellville parish for five years. He was eating a lunch of beef tacos served up after Sunday Mass. These festivals display how the Catholic Church is a global faith “where everyone is welcome, everyone is celebrated,” said the retired medical administrator.
“We all come from somewhere,” he said.