By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – The first celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Diocese of Jackson was held on Dec. 16, 1979, in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle. Every year many of the parishes and missions hold in her honor mañanitas, a sunrise service on Dec. 11, Masses, processions and skits about her apparition. In some communities the faithful pray a novena of rosaries at different homes or in the church leading up to the feast day.
Saturday, Dec. 12, marks the 484th anniversary of her apparition to the Indian San Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico.
In 1754 Pope Benedict XIV declared for Dec. 12 a special Mass and Office proper to the celebration on her feast day. In 1945, Pope Pius XII designated Our Lady of Guadalupe the Empress of the Americas noting that she had been painted “by brushes that were not of this world.” The following year he declared her to be the Patroness of the Americas. In 1988 the liturgical celebration on Dec. 12 was raised to the status of a feast in all dioceses in the United States.
For Mexicans living in the Jackson diocese the celebration has special meaning.
Herminia Martínez, a member of Hazlehurst St. Martin of Tours Mission, says that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a very special day in her native country, Mexico. “On Dec. 11 people decorate the front door of their houses with lights of different colors and with images of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” she said. Around 11 p.m. people gather in churches to sing songs and to pray the rosary, a tradition known as mañanitas.
Martínez remembers fondly the year she participated in the “Guadalupan torch run” when she was a teenager, walking and running with a group of friends from her home in San José Chiapas Puebla to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a journey that took all day and night. There, youth groups from different parts of the country lit their torches and then brought them, burning, to their local churches.
“You feel something special when you are running with that torch in your hands,” she said. “It’s a great joy to participate in this relay race.”
Martínez added that she has also participated in that event here in the United States when the “Guadalupan Torch Relay Race” has passed through Hazlehurst on its way to New York. “We received the lighted torch, we remember the tradition and we think about the message the runners bring.”
The International Guadalupan Torch Relay Race is sponsored each year by the Tepeyac Association of New York. The race begins in October at Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City, progresses through several states in the United States and ends on Dec. 12 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
For the feast this year, Martínez is preparing the children of the parish to present a Guadalupan dance on Friday, Dec. 11, during the 6:30 p.m. Mass in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. “We will bring her flowers, we will sing and dance in her honor,” she said.
For Martínez, Dec. 11-12 are also special days of remembrance in a different way. Eleven years ago her father was dying on Dec. 11 but it seemed like something was holding him in this world. On that day, she prayed to the Virgin of Guadalupe that if her father was afraid of dying, to help him go in peace. “And he died that same day,” she said.
Growing up in the small town of Allende, in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, Blanca Cantu would pray the rosary to the virgin with her parents and siblings at different homes. “We prayed 46 rosaries, one daily for each star in the Virgin’s blue mantle, ending on Dec. 12 before the Mass on her feast day,” Cantu said.
On Dec. 12, she added, the people would gather at 5 a.m. at the entrance of the town to walk for two hours toward their church, praying the rosary led by their pastor and singing songs. The Mass was celebrated at 7 a.m. followed by dances and a meal. “This is one of my most cherished childhood memories,” Cantu said.
As a member of Batesville St. Mary, Cantu is one of the organizers of the celebration in her parish, a tradition that began in 2009. She said that before the 7 a.m. Mass the congregation participates in a short procession from the parish center to the church. The adults and the children, many dressed as St. Juan Diego and others wearing Mexican dresses, bring flowers to the Virgin at the beginning of the celebration. This year the Mass will be on Saturday, Dec. 12.
This past Thanksgiving Day, Sandra Hernández and her family prepared an altar for the Virgin in the front lawn of their home in Belmont.
Her devotion for the Virgin of Guadalupe comes from her father who used to pray daily for her intersession. Hernandez’s father had a small statue of the Virgin and a crucifix on his night stand. “I was very young but I remember him praying everyday, in the morning or at night, calling the Virgin ‘My Lupita,’” she said. Lupita is a nickname for Guadalupe. Hernández said her father named the last of his seven daughters, Guadalupe.
“My mother taught me to pray the rosary, she has a big devotion for Mary. But my father passed on his faith and love for the Virgin of Guadalupe to me,” she explained.
She remembers that in her native town of Cuitlahuac, Veracruz, the community assembled close to midnight on Dec. 11 to pray the rosary and sing mañanitas. “I went with my family to this celebration which was always very well attended and afterwards we shared a meal,” she said. On the 12th we gathered again for Mass.
Gerardo Hernández of Jackson grew up in a small town in the state of Juanajuato in Mexico. During the months of November and December he took part in the “Hermandadez (Brotherhood) activities in Rincón de Alonso, his town, for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“We processed from one town to another taking a statue of the Virgin on a pedestal to the small chapel in each community,” he said. Sometimes the group walked for two hours or more praying the rosary and singing songs written for the Virgin. The statue stayed in each town for several days and then it was taken to the next town until Dec. 12 when it arrived at the main church in the district.
As a member of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle’s Hispanic ministry, Hernandez participates in the procession around Smith Park while praying the rosary and singing songs led by a group carrying a statue of the Virgin. This year the celebration is set for Sunday, Dec. 13, beginning at 1 p.m. with the procession. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will be the main celebrant.