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Catholics mark Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with festival

POSTED: December 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Honoring the 'Mother of God'

Watch scenes from the feast day Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church.

TOM REED/The Times

Rojelio Ibarra, left, and Antonio Cerda lead the dancers celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Friday at St. Michael Catholic Church.

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They came bearing roses and braved the brisk afternoon air to celebrate the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe with traditional dancing.

Gainesville Catholics reveled in the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Michael Catholic Church on Friday for the second time since the "brown-skinned virgin" was chosen as the one to represent the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Catholics gathered at St. Michael to celebrate Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas, with prayers, roses, songs and traditional dances.

The Rev. Thad Rudd led a bilingual Mass at noon. It was one of five held during Friday’s celebration.

Rudd told parishioners that this year’s celebration of Our Lady was one of encouragement.

"Sometimes, things are hard for us," Rudd said. "... The Lady brings us new hope."

Our Lady of Guadalupe, also referred to as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a Roman Catholic icon who is especially significant to Mexican Catholics. She is considered a unifying symbol for her role in the conversion of native Mexicans to Catholicism during their oppression by the Spaniards.

Catholics say that in 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared five times near Mexico City to an Aztec Catholic convert named Juan Diego as an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

When she appeared, Guadalupe had the dark skin of a Mestiz, spoke in the native Aztec language and called herself the "Mother of God," according to Catholics.

Guadalupe asked Diego to tell the local bishop to build a sanctuary, but when Diego did, the bishop needed proof that the visions of Guadalupe were real.

To prove to the bishop that she was an authentic apparition of the Virgin Mary, Guadalupe gave Diego roses that should not have been growing during the winter in Mexico, and told him to take them to the bishop as a sign of her authenticity.

When Diego pulled the flowers from his cloak to give them to the bishop, Guadalupe’s image was imprinted on it, according to the Catholics.

In the image, Guadalupe’s hands are folded in prayer. One of her hands is darker and thicker than the other. Catholics believe the image symbolizes the union of the Aztecs and the Spaniards, according to the Marian Catechetical Guide on the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Web site.

As Latino immigrants have made their homes in Georgia, they have carried with them their love for Guadalupe, renewing area Catholics’ dedication to the Virgin. Her growing significance in the area prompted Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta to crown Guadalupe’s image as the "queen" of the Archdiocese last year.

Latino Catholics also have brought their own way of celebrating Guadalupe to Gainesville. In between Masses on Friday, parishioners danced outside the church together, wearing costumes that bore the image of Guadalupe.

Tapped out to a drumbeat amid the reds, whites and greens, the dances were as much an homage to Mexico as they were to Guadalupe.

"In old Mexico, we did that," parishioner Juan Ibarra said.


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