Virgen de Guadalupe Catholic image of hope
Local Roman Catholics will celebrate Feast Day in her honor today.
Today, Frances Martinez will rise before the roosters, make her way to Cristo Rey Catholic Church in her East Austin neighborhood, and begin a day of devotion. Just the thought fills the 70-yearold Martinez with almost childlike giddiness.
“It’s awesome,” said Martinez about the prospect of rising at 3 a.m. for the religious observance she holds dear to her heart, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Across Austin and the Americas, Roman Catholics will join Wednesday in celebrations of La Virgen de Guadalupe, an apparition of the Virgin Mary who believers say spoke to the indigenous peasant farmer Juan Diego on a hill near what is now Mexico City in 1531. Mary asked that a church be built there. Her appearance is credited for leading to the conversion of millions of indigenous people to Christianity.
For many Latinos and Mexican Americans, the day resonates with pride and cultural significance because Mary was darkskinned, dressed as an Indian and spoke Náhuatl. That Mary appeared in a vision that resembled their own people offered hope to the Aztecs, who had been conquered by the Spaniards, the Most Rev. Bishop Joe Vásquez of the Diocese of Austin said.
“The significance has always been that Mary brings a message to San Juan ( Juan Diego was later canonized a saint) about hope,” Vásquez said. “She brings a message of Christ and hope for the people. She herself becomes the symbol of motherhood for the entire nation and for people who are looking for God.”
Beginning at midnight and continuing throughout the day and night on Wednesday, Catholics will celebrate with special Spanish and bilingual Masses, processions, Aztec dances, food, song and dramatic interpretations of the apparition. They will adorn altars with red roses and join mariachi musicians at predawn prayer and music services in full-throated renditions of the traditional “Las Mañanitas.”
A longtime community activist and a retired city of Austin employee, Martinez planned to be at Cristo Rey before dawn to help her fellow Guadalupanas, the women’s religious charity and service group to which she’s belonged for 30 years, prepare after-Mass refreshments of hot chocolate and Mexican sweetbreads, and to put finishing touches on flowers and decorations in the altar, pews and windows.
Catholics begin bringing flowers to church in the days leading to Feast Day services. By Wednesday, altars are resplendent and overflowing in roses. The significance, said Maria Elena Ramirez, another Guadalupana, is that roses miraculously appeared on the hillside in December after a local church official doubted Juan Diego’s story and asked for evidence of his vision.
Martinez credits Mary with her health and with twice bringing miracles in the health of her son, Jesus, first when he was 16 and more recently four years ago. “I pray to her all the time because she’s never failed me,” Martinez said.
The Roman Catholic church knows of countless miracles which occurred “through the intercession of Our Lady,” Vásquez said.
The image of La Virgen appearing before Juan Diego has emerged around the world as an iconic symbol laden with religious and cultural significance, found on Tshirts, tote bags, jewelry, works of Chicano art and other objects.
In the U.S., artists find the image appealing because it is beloved by the masses and because it strikes cultural chords, particularly with Mexican Americans, artist Blas Lopez said.
“We just grew up with the Virgen everywhere,” said Lopez, who lives in San Antonio. “What older relative didn’t have a little altar with a candle, or a picture of her in the living room? Maybe the glass was broken, but they had an image.”
From left: Maria Elena Ramirez, Frances Martinez Manuel Lopez and Fausta Cornejo, place a flower arrangement in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside of Cristo Rey Catholic Church in East Austin.