BROWNSVILLE — Priests on horseback, matachines dancing in the streets, the voices of the faithful, hundreds, joined in prayer and song, as processions from three directions converge on Lincoln Street for a Mass commemorating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
On Dec. 12, the feast day of the patroness of the Americas, you can feel the energy of the community coming together to celebrate.
While millions make a pilgrimage each year to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City for the feast day, local celebrations draw hundreds and thousands here in the Rio Grande Valley.
In the Diocese of Brownsville, three historical parishes (in Brownsville, Mission and Raymondville) and three mission churches (in Expressway Heights, La Villa and El Sauz) named after Our Lady of Guadalupe can serve as pilgrimage sites closer to home. Her feast day is an ideal time as each church prepares a full schedule in honor of their namesake.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores, during an outdoor Mass in 2011 for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Brownsville, said, “We recognize the importance to publically manifest the faith we have of God’s closeness through the presence of the Mother of Christ in our lives.”
He said, the Virgin Mary announces with her presence the new hope of the world. “Dios se acuerda de su pueblo. (God remembers his people.)”
The public manifestation joins parishioners from different parishes. Some parishes celebrate with midnight vigils, mañanitas, processions, and plays honoring the Virgin Mary.
In the Brownville procession in 2011, while some walked and sang, floats carried representations of the apparition with young girls dressed as the Blessed Mother and young boys as Blessed Juan Diego. Our Lady’s image, multiplied on banners, paintings, and t-shirts, was carried through the streets.
The faithful also bring her roses on Dec. 12, some cut from home gardens, some purchased, some made of silk and others hand made from paper.
Father Jorge Gomez, chancellor of the diocese and pastor of Holy Family Church in Brownsville, said it is important to continue the traditions of the Dec. 12 feast day. “We are one family and she gathers us together on that day,” he said.
“Amid the moral and cultural challenges of our time,” Father Gomez said, “she is looked to as model for furthering the new evangelization.”
“Our Lady of Guadalupe has been the greatest missionary that the world has known,” he said. “She is still changing hearts and minds. We continue honoring her as the mother of God, and she will continue leading us to her son Jesus Christ.”
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was chosen by bishops of the United States to be a part of the Calendar for U.S. dioceses in 1971. The feast day commemorates the apparition of the Virgin Mary to the Indian Juan Diego, at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City in December, 1531, ten years after the conquest of Mexico by Spain.
Oblate priest Father Roy Snipes, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mission, said the apparition “tells us she (Virgin Mary) loves us and is with us.”
He said that just as Juan Diego, who was canonized in 2002, responded to Our Blessed Mother’s request almost 500 years ago, celebrations on her feast day remind us “ordinary people in their ordinary lives are in touch with God’s saving love.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Bishop Flores will celebrate an outdoor Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville with parishioners from all the local churches.