Throughout the Diocese of Venice tradition, prayer, reverence, and music marked the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, of the New Evangelization, and of unborn children.
Celebrated on Dec. 12, the Feast is often linked to the Dec. 9 Feast of St. Juan Diego, the day in 1531 when Our Lady first appeared to the Saint near modern day Mexico City.
Parishes throughout the Diocese celebrated this special day with a variety of events including Masses, overnight vigils, large processions, early morning prayer celebrations, and outdoor festivities. Many of the activities included traditional music with elaborately dressed dancers, as large numbers of small children also dressed as our Our Lady or St. Juan Diego.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe means so much to me and so many others,” said Olivia Gomez of Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers who participated in the Dec. 11, 2022, Mass and an outdoor festival. “My family has a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. We pray to her each day. This gives us great comfort.”
That gratitude was magnified this year as the Fort Myers community was hard hit on Sept. 28 by Hurricane Ian. Gomez, whose home had roof and water damage, was out of work until just recently because the business where she worked was badly damaged.
“On this Feast Day, in a special way, we all join together to give thanks to Mary and to honor Her for the blessings we have received throughout the year, but especially since Ian,” Gomez said. “We have been truly blessed by the love and kindness of everyone in the community who have come together to rebuild.”
Carlos Diaz, of St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, also had home damage from river flooding after Ian and had to replace nearly the entire contents of his home.
“We needed clothes for the children and furniture,” Diaz said during the Parish outdoor celebration. “The Parish was our lifeline as Our Lady of Guadalupe shined Her light upon us all. We are doing great now. We really are blessed that it wasn’t worse. We are still in our home, which is better than many of our family and friends.”
At Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the Feast Day Mass. The Mass there was preceded by a procession around the church. Afterwards, the Bishop blessed a variety of religious articles and then everyone enjoyed a celebration in the Parish Hall.
Bishop Dewane expressed joy at the commemoration and how it represented the Universal nature of the Church, with Our Lady taking on a special meaning for all. “We honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and Her presence among us as this is an important moment that deserves our prayerful thanks and a true celebration.”
Celebrations also took place in many Parishes and schools throughout the Diocese. Huge crowds took part in a large procession from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish through the streets of Immokalee, while at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples the procession wound its way to the Parish from U.S. 41.
A smaller procession preceded a trilingual (English, Spanish, Creole) Mass which took place Dec. 11 at Frontier Park in Zolfo Springs for the faithful of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green.
Each Diocesan Catholic elementary school held a variety of celebrations to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, many taking the opportunity to create a teaching lesson about the Universal Church and devotions to Our Lady.
Our Lady appeared, dressed like an Aztec princess, to St. Juan Diego, a poor widower who was on his way to Mass. She asked, in his native language, to have the Bishop of Mexico build a church in Her honor. Skeptical, the Bishop asked for a sign. Our Lady again appeared to St. Juan Diego who shared the request of the Bishop. So, Our Lady provided a sign, beautiful roses in the middle of winter which were placed in the tilma, a cloak made of cactus fibers, which St. Juan Diego wore. Upon his return to the Bishop, when Juan Diego opened the tilma, the roses fell to the floor, and an impression of Our Lady appeared on the tilma in the form of an indigenous woman. The image amazed the Bishop and all those present and word of this miracle quickly spread.
This apparition led to the conversion of Mexico almost overnight, when up to that time Catholic missionaries from Europe had made very little headway. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City was built on the site of the apparitions and is one of the most visited religious shrines in the world. It is also home of the actual tilma of St. Juan Diego, which can still be seen, with the image clearly visible, nearly 500 years later.