By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
WEST LIBERTY — Genoveva Aragon was terrified when she went into labor at 6 months gestation. Her daughter was born weighing just 2 pounds and Aragon feared the premature baby might not survive. She named the baby Maria Guadalupe “Lupe” Lopez, and prayed fervently to her namesake saint — Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Twenty-seven years later, Lupe Lopez wiped away tears as her mother retold the story in their family home in West Liberty, a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe beside them. “We believe that she is the mother of God, that she does miracles. We believe,” Lopez said.
With the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe approaching Dec. 12, Hispanic families from St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty have been passing a statue of the saint from household to household nightly since early November.
Hispanic families sign up to host the traveling statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their homes. Each evening, a different family and many of their extended family members pray the rosary and the Litany of Mary, sing hymns and share a meal. Afterward, they ensure the statue gets to the next family on the list.
About 15 extended family members attended the gathering at Aragon’s house Dec. 5, along with parish pastor Father Greg Steckel and retired pastor Father Dennis Martin. The family surrounded the statue with poinsettias and candles, thumbing through well-worn Spanish-language prayer books as they honored the saint. Between decades of the rosary, the impassioned voice of Lopez’s grandmother Graciela Rangel led the singing of traditional songs like Paloma Blanca (white dove). Afterward, the family and priests ate a traditional Mexican stew, or “posole,” made of pork, chile and hominy. They completed their meal with hot chocolate and vanilla cookies.
Fr. Steckel and Fr. Martin said the families are very welcoming and the priests attend the nightly devotions as often as possible. For Fr. Steckel, who has served the parish for about two years and is working with a tutor to become fluent in Spanish, the evenings offer an opportunity to get to know the parishioners, their culture and language. Currently, Columbus Junction pastor Father Joseph Sia is the Spanish-language sacramental minister at the West Liberty Parish.
“It helps me feel at home in the community and accepted by the families. You feel more comfortable (as their pastor); you feel like you fit in,” Fr. Steckel said.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Marian apparition, is important to Hispanic Catholics for a number of reasons. Catholics believe Mary appeared in Villa de Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531. Many — like Lopez’s family — believe she performs miracles.
Fr. Martin added that Our Lady of Guadalupe is additionally significant because the Hispanic culture is very relational, and mothers are held in high esteem.
While the feast day is Dec. 12, the parish won’t formally celebrate until Sunday, Dec. 14. Before Mass, they will process about four blocks through town, praying the rosary, dancing, singing and playing drums. The traveling statue is carried and accompanies them into the church for Mass. Afterward, the Mass-goers share a potluck dinner.
The celebrations are an expression of who they are as a community of faith, said Fr. Steckel.