COLUMBIA — It was chilly at 5 a.m. Wednesday when members of Columbia's Hispanic community gathered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church to celebrate the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which occurred 481 years ago in Mexico.
The celebration incorporated festive songs and traditional dance performances to commemorate the story of the Virgin's appearance.
The story goes like this, with some variations:
On Dec. 12, 1531, on the hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City, "La Virgen de Guadalupe," as she is known in the Spanish-speaking world, made her presence known to an Indian named Juan Diego. He was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint in 2002.
The Virgin of Guadalupe asked Juan Diego to build a temple on that hill, but when he first delivered this information, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga didn't believe him. Juan Diego returned, and the Lady asked him to try again. Once again, the bishop didn't believe him, but this time the bishop wanted proof so that he could believe.
Juan Diego returned to the hill and again saw the Virgin of Guadalupe. She told him to pick some Castilian roses and, after bringing them before the Virgin, returned to the bishop with them. Once Juan Diego dropped the flowers in front of the bishop, the image of the Virgin appeared on Juan Diego’s "tilma" or cloak. Astounded by the miracle, the bishop approved the church be built on that site in her honor.
Hundreds of years later, thousands of people travel to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe; her appearance is strongly celebrated throughout the world by the Catholic Church, especially in the Americas.
She has been recognized by many popes as the Queen of Mexico and Patroness and Mother of the Americas. The celebration known as "El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe" and liturgical texts for the Holy Mass and the Breviary in her honor were approved by the Holy See in 1754.
The celebration usually includes flowers for decoration, dancers performing in front of the church in honor of La Virgen de Guadalupe and mariachi, or Mexican folk style, music performances. The Wednesday celebration at Sacred Heart had flowers, dancers and some music, but a mariachi band performed on Sunday's Mass.
Enrique Castro, director of Hispanic and cross-cultural ministries for the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, said he thinks organizing the celebration has not been hard since the Hispanic community in Columbia is strongly driven by faith and love in practicing its traditions.
"The message for them, I think, is hope," Castro said in Spanish. He was translated by the reporter for this story, Julie Dimas, who speaks the language fluently.
"One of the things that I see is important for the Hispanic community, in reference to church, is that it’s a space where they feel comfortable, at home. Lots of them have left their countries and here they feel they are in strange territory," Castro said. "So when they come (to church) they feel safe, and more so if it’s celebrating a tradition like the Virgen de Guadalupe. It makes them feel at peace."
Castro said that if he could describe the significance of the Virgen de Guadalupe and what it means to the Catholic community, he would describe her as an image that helps people understand God's power and love.
"We consider Maria the mother of Christ; therefore, we consider her to be very important. Maria is a messenger of Jesus," he said. "The appearance of the Virgen de Guadalupe is a miracle that we may not be able to understand fully, but in that miracle, what we’ve learned is that it’s brought us closer to God.”
Castro hopes that through celebrations such as these, people can connect to their faith and to others.
"In regular television and magazines, faith is never really talked about, and God is never really talked about," he said. "So it’s logical that with so many other attractions our faith in God is foggy, it gets dirty and it gets hidden, but I think it’s there. We all have it — we just have to dust it off."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.