Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated in Diocese

The Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was honored across the Diocese of Venice with a variety of different celebrations including processions, prayer services and Masses on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12, 2021. Some Parish separated their celebration from the observance of the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, while others incorporated the Feast Day into the traditional, more low-key Advent Mass.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most revered patronesses within the Catholic Faith, and this is particularly so in the Hispanic community. The Feast Day, Dec. 12, is often described as all other holidays wrapped up into one.

The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac, in what is now modern-day Mexico City, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples. Our Lady asked St. Juan Diego to appeal to the local Bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, indicating how she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her Son. Initially turned away, Diego returned to the site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message.

The Blessed Virgin instructed St. Juan Diego to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish Bishop. St. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the Bishop and the roses spilled upon the floor, an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma. Nearly 500 years later, Diego’s tilma with the miraculous image is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

The significance of the moment was crucial as Mary took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, Nahuatl. The subsequent encounters paved the way for the rapid conversion of the people of Mexico to Catholicism and a passionate devotion to Our Lady lasts to the present day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane led the celebration at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, where he had dedicated the new Parish Church on March 21. This Mass brought together a massive crowd which was followed by an 1/3-mile procession to an outdoor festival that lasted into the night.

Bishop Dewane noted how the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe personally resonates with him. Partially for having visited the Basilica in Mexico City, but also knowing what it is like as a Bishop to be asked to build a church and how difficult the process is, something the faithful heartily appreciated with laughter.

Explaining how Advent is about anticipating the second coming of Christ, the Bishop stressed the need to hold Jesus in our hearts. He remarked how strongly he could see that in the faithful of St. Paul Parish as evidence by their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to Her Son.

“The evidence you give to the love of Her Son, Jesus Christ. To carry Him with you. To be the Disciples of Christ. That is the beauty here in Arcadia. That discipleship you evidence by your presence here.”

Father Luis Pacheco, Pastor of St. Paul, delivered the homily in English and Spanish. He expressed the power that the image of Our Lady was for the people of Mexico, appearing as a pregnant indigenous princess bearing a message of love and hope for an oppressed people.

“Our Lady is a symbol of God’s love for us all,” said Maria Valenzuela of St. Paul. “God sent Mary to spread His Grace upon Mexico and the world. Beautiful Mary is a special gift to celebrate and honor.”

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, a triduum of evening Masses preceded an overnight pray vigil, sunrise Mass and a larger Feast Day celebration.

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples served as host for a combined celebration with the Hispanic faithful of St. Agnes Parish. Father Carlos Encinas was the celebrant and serves the Spanish-speaking population of both communities. The Mass was the largest in the history with an estimated 1,500 participating. Following Mass, youth participated in a play which retold the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady, something which takes place at many Parish celebrations. Outside, Aztec dancers performed under the lights in the parking lot while a festival of food took place.

Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers had two shrines to Our Lady. One was in the main church, below the permanent Our Lady of Guadalupe image on the wall, left of the altar. There, the faithful placed hundreds of flowers and other religious articles. A temporary shrine was constructed outside. The celebration began with singing in the church and continued overnight and into the next day.

The faithful at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green gathered at the Frontier Park pavilion in Zolfo Spring for a trilingual Mass (Spanish, Creole and English). The Mass was preceded by a procession of children and families behind a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Mass was followed by a crowning of Our Lady which led into a fiesta.

The events at the locations noted above were just a small sample of the many activities which took place in celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the Diocese.