Honoring the ‘Mother of the Americas’

December 8, 2020

Flowers surround a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Houston in 2019. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — In what would have been its 48th anniversary, the huge procession of drummers and dancers swirling through downtown Houston in honor of the Dec. 12 feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been canceled because of the pandemic, organizers said.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, in a message to pastors on Advent and liturgical celebrations for Christmas, said, “On behalf of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the board of directors of the Archdiocesan Asociación Guadalupana, we wish to inform you that the popular devotions and Liturgy that take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been canceled for this year as we continue to live in a time of pandemic.”

But individual churches will continue their local celebrations with matachines, who are parishioners performing dances dressed in indigenous costumes, said Priscella Marquez, president of the Asociación Guadalupana.

Rosaries and early morning Masses practicing social distancing and mask-wearing will begin the celebrations. Afterward, participants can feast on tamales and other food, she said.

Marquez, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Harrisburg, said, “We will be performing and singing from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. Then Mass at 6 a.m. and afterward food booths will be available to purchase to go.”

As many churches do, the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be decorated, and dozens of flowers, mostly roses, will be given out of respect and love, she said.

The event is expected to last throughout the day so people can visit as their schedules allow.

One event that was not canceled was the Guadalupe Torch Relay, which began in Mexico City, carrying an official image of Our Lady of Guadalupe starting from its official shrine all the way to New York. It is accompanied by a lit torch carried the whole way by runners similar to the Olympic torch.

The relay made a stop in Houston’s Holy Ghost Catholic Church on Oct. 30 before moving on to Beaumont and points north, said Holy Ghost pastor Father Bill Bueche.

Following COVID-19 protocols, parishioners remained in their cars during a 7 p.m. outdoor Mass that evening and afterward were able to drive by the image and receive a holy card touched to the picture, Father Bueche said.

When informing his parishioners, he said, “Our Blessed Mother is making a special visit once again! Please make plans to come and greet her. Bring your needs and petitions. Bring your thanks and gratitude. Bring your love and devotion!”

Holy Ghost has one of the largest groups of local folk dancers of all ages, some wearing elaborate feathered headpieces and traditional Aztec-style dress. They stomp to drumbeats and blowing conch shells. After the procession would arrive at the downtown convention center, Cardinal DiNardo and other priests would celebrate noon Mass.

All this tradition honors the time starting Dec. 9, 1531 on a hill near a rural village just outside Mexico City, when the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, appeared to a humble peasant on his way to Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. His native name in Nahuatl was Cuauhtlatoazin (“one who speaks like an eagle”) and in Spanish was named Juan Diego, now a saint canonized by St. John Paul II in 2002.

Surrounded by light and speaking in his indigenous tongue of Nahuatl, Our Lady told Juan Diego that she wanted a church built to manifest the love of Jesus and hear the petitions of the faithful. At her request, he approached Bishop Juan de Zumarraga, who doubted the story.

After Juan Diego met with the Virgin Mary again on Dec. 12, she arranged roses within his cloak and told him this would be the sign that he should present to the bishop. When Juan Diego opened the cloak or tilma to show the flowers, the bishop was presented with a miraculously imprinted image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The name Guadalupe is a Spanish version of the Nahuatl word Coatlaxopeuh, meaning “the one who crushes the serpent.”

In 1945, Venerable Pius XII, in his radio message commemorating the 50th anniversary of the crowning of the Guadalupe image, called her “Empress of the Americas,” according to the University of Dayton. In 1960, St. John XXIII called her the “celestial missionary of the New World” and “Mother of the Americas.”

Then in 1979, St. John Paul II called Our Lady of Guadalupe the “Mother of the Church in Latin America” and also the “Star of Evangelization” of the whole sub-continent.

The Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, which displays St. Juan Diego’s cloak, has become one of the world’s most-visited Catholic sites, second only to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel in Rome.