By Celine Klosterman
Drums echoed blocks away in the clear, cold air as dancers clad in crimson costumes shook maracas to the beat. A bright spot against the gray sky and melting slush, the group of about 25 youths and children led a 45-minute procession several blocks through downtown West Liberty on Dec. 13 for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Men carried a statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded by flowers while people prayed the rosary; about 20 more Catholics, dressed in white shirts, danced, and a handful of trumpeters, a tuba player and clarinetists provided music.
Three masked men representing devils followed dancers throughout the procession, keeping the parishioners in line. After the statue of Jesus’ mother was carried into St. Joseph Church, dancers approached it, two by two, before making the Sign of the Cross.
The annual procession commemorated the Virgin Mary’s appearance in Mexico to Juan Diego, an Indian whom she reportedly told to build a church on the site of her apparition — Tepeyac Hill. The Catholic Church says the local bishop asked for a sign confirming Juan’s story, so Mary told the peasant to take flowers he gathered in winter to the bishop. After Juan did so on Dec. 12, an image of her draped in a green, yellow-starred shawl appeared on his cloak, which he had used to gather the flowers. Mass conversions followed.
“This is like a gift for her birthday, to celebrate her day and her day only,” Luz Gonzalez, 16, said of the West Liberty celebration.
About 400 people packed the church for the Spanish Mass Dec. 13, filling pews, the choir loft and folding chairs. Earlier that weekend, the dancers had performed at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, said Ulises Jacques, 15. Parishioners had also offered mañanitas, songs often sung at birthday parties, to Mary.
“She helped out people in Mexico with the building of the church,” he noted. “I pray to her around these months.”
Father Dennis Martin, St. Joseph’s pastor, said the Hispanics’ devotion to Mary has strengthened his own appreciation for Jesus’ mother.
In Davenport, 350-400 people offered prayer and mañanitas during a 6 a.m. service Dec. 13 at St. Mary Parish, said Deacon George Strader. The only illumination came from candles and small electric lights spotlighting an image of the Virgin Mary. Catholics recited the rosary; their prayers were intertwined with songs telling the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A brass band played, and Catholics then shared a meal of Mexican bread, chocolate and traditional menudo, a soup.
Spanish Mass wrapped up the morning.
Further south, Father Troy Richmond, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison, celebrated a bilingual Mass for about 150 Hispanics and non-Hispanics Dec. 12. Children processed into the church as part of an annual celebration organized by the Guadalupanas, a women’s group, and brought roses to a statue of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe during the offertory.
For 30 years, Julia Mendez has helped organize the Fort Madison celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe. She hopes to spread devotion to the Blessed Mother and her son, Jesus, whom her parents taught her to honor. “She has made me strong for every problem in my life,” Mendez said.