By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Hispanic children and adults, dressed in velvety robes of red, pink, blue and tan, danced into St. James Catholic Church in Washington on Dec. 11 accompanied by the sounds of trumpet and guitar. Masks depicting old men covered their faces, and their cylinder-shaped hats were adorned with fringe and beaded chains. The dancers circled an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe near the altar before filling the pews for Mass.
On Dec. 11 and 12, Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport commemorated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe through prayer, dance and reenactment and with roses. Dec. 12 is an especially important feast day for Hispanics as it commemorates the appearance of Mary to Aztec peasant Juan Diego (now a saint) in Mexico 485 years ago.
“She’s the patroness of the Americas,” said Father Jim Betzen, pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa. The fact that she chose to appear in Mexico is a source of national pride. “For immigrants, it’s a time to celebrate their culture.”
One of the traditions at his parish is a reenactment of the story of Juan Diego encountering Mary near Tepayac Hill in central Mexico. Mary advised him to go to Tenochtitlan and tell the bishop there to build a church. The bishop was skeptical, and demanded proof of her appearance. Juan Diego filled his tilma (a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber) with roses and presented them to Mary. She told him to take them to the bishop. When Juan Diego let down his tilma for the bishop, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in place of the roses.
For this reason, Hispanic Catholics place a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe near the altar and offer gifts of roses. At St. Mary Parish in Davenport, parishioners also adorned the image with lights and attached homemade paper roses to the church windows.
Dancing is a tradition practiced in many parishes with Hispanic members, also. The dancing is considered a gift to Mary. Father Joseph Sia, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, noted that there are many variations in dancing style, costumes and the symbolism of the images that are portrayed.
Gabi Lopez, a dancer with the Washington troupe, said the costumes this year portrayed early European settlers to Mexico who introduced Christianity. After the procession and Mass on Dec. 11, the group headed to St. James Catholic School gymnasium to perform a lengthy dance. “It’s like giving yourself — you’re dancing for 28 minutes, jumping, with robes and the mask. It’s giving something to the Virgin to say, ‘I honor you by dancing. It’s hard. I want to give this to you as a symbol (of my devotion).’”
Sister Irene Munoz, CHM, said Hispanic Catholics’ spirited devotion to Mary should inspire non-Hispanic Catholics, as well. “(Mary) said to Juan Diego, ‘Am I not your mother?’ She’s a mother we can always go to with confidence and trust. I love the way she spoke to Juan Diego and I think she speaks to all of us that way.”
Sr. Munoz believes that devotion to Mary, including recitation of the rosary, has become less popular over time among Anglo Catholics. Hispanic Catholics have an opportunity to evangelize that aspect of the faith, especially as their numbers in the church continue to grow. “I hope that devotion to Mary will always be one of the strengths of our faith as Catholics,” Sr. Munoz said.
Day of prayer for migrants, refugees
The U.S. Catholic Church asked that the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe be a day of prayer with a focus on migrants and refugees.
The day of prayer was intended to be a time to place before a merciful God the hopes, fears and needs of all those families who have come to the United States seeking a better life.