By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Saints Juan Diego, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Kolkata and other popular saints marched along the streets of West Liberty on Oct. 29. They weren’t the real saints, of course, just Catholic youths and adults inspired by the saints’ lives.
Dressed as their favorite saints, the group of about 50 Catholics walked from downtown West Liberty to the parish hall a few blocks away to celebrate the feast of All Saints.
“You look great,” one of the organizers, Rosemary Gonzalez, told the group at the start of the parade. “We’re going to live what we’ve been talking about the last few weeks, singing and sharing our faith.” She noted that they were celebrating the feast of All Saints a little early. The actual feast day, Nov. 1, commemorates officially proclaimed saints as well as holy men and women whom only God knows, who made Christ present in their lives and carried out God’s will.
The parade is a burgeoning tradition for St. Joseph Parish-West Liberty’s Rio de Aqua Viva Hispanic prayer group. Rosemary and her husband, Jose, who are enrolled in the Spanish Ministry Formation Program and lead ministry with the West Liberty prayer group, organized the parade last year as a way to help youths learn about saints while evangelizing to the community. Youths learn about a variety saints in the weeks leading up to the parade, and choose to dress up as their favorite.
One boy dressed as St. Francis of Assisi because he shared the saint’s love for animals. The boy helped West Liberty’s pastor, Father Greg Steckel, walk his dog along the route. Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Rita and Holy Infant of Atocha (the Christ child depicted in a shawl and hat) were among other saints featured. Jessica Bautista, 14, dressed up as St. Philomena, a young consecrated virgin who died at the hands of a Roman emperor she refused to marry. “I like that everyone dresses up and is inspired by the saints’ stories,” Jessica said.
Adults enjoyed dressing up, as well. One woman dressed as Santa Isabel de Ungary (St. Elizabeth of Hungary), complete with a basket of bread to commemorate the saint’s charitable life. Pope Francis — while not a saint at this time — also made an appearance. The pope’s “presence” put a smile on the face of Father Joseph Sia, the parish’s sacramental minister for Spanish-speaking Catholics.
After the parade, the group congregated in the parish hall for more saint-themed fun. Guests played musical chairs, saints bingo and helped break a piñata, all while enjoying pizza and potluck fare. Rosemary Gonzalez encouraged guests to talk about their saint and why they chose to dress up as that saint.
She offered some context on Halloween and the feast of All Saints. While Halloween began as a Christian holiday leading up to the feast day, modern secular traditions are far removed from Halloween’s religious origins, she said. She urged parents in the group to help make sure their families don’t lose sight of the saints among the hubbub of Halloween.
Quizzing the children, she asked why Catholics celebrate the feast of All Saints. “Because they did something great for the world, for God?” one girl answered. Rosemary responded, “Yes, they did great things. They helped the sick, helped the poor, lived a life of sainthood, followed in Jesus’ footsteps. …we need to celebrate the lives of people who did amazing things.”