By Jodi Magallanes
LAGRANGE — In honor of the Virgin Mary’s first known appearance in the Western Hemisphere, St. Joseph Parish in LaGrange celebrated the feast Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monday, Dec. 12, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.
Although Blessed Pope John Paul II publicly recognized the Virgin of Guadalupe as the Mother of the Americas, she is particularly precious to Mexican Catholics. Since she appeared as a mixed-blood Indian to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in 1531 near Mexico City, the devotion of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been integral to the Mexican Catholic tradition.
At St. Joseph, members of the parish’s Spanish-speaking community also remembered her appearance with flowers, dancing, food and music. According to parish administrator, Conventual Franciscan Father Andrew Martinez, the observance is one of the biggest for the parish’s Hispanic community, in addition to the Passion and another Christmas season activity, the Shepherd’s Play.
Bishop Rhoades immediately called worshippers’ attention to the story of Our Lady’s appearance, which includes the well-known Marian question “Am I not here, she who is your mother?” The question, asked of Juan Diego, requires the modern faithful as well to recognize that they are in the presence of the Holy Queen, Bishop Rhoades said.
A believer can’t embrace Jesus without recognizing the role that Mary played in salvation and the maternal, spiritual role He assigned her over all people, Bishop Rhoades continued.
Mary’s appearance revived evangelization efforts in the New World, which is the reason Our Lady of Guadalupe is referred to as the Star of Evangelization. She also is with people today during their faith journeys.
In an age when secularism, relativism and consumerism are challenges, evangelical values come under attack. The Virgin helps the faithful to defend values, such as respect for life from conception to natural death, the sanctity and indissolubility of Christian matrimony and the stability and dignity of the family. But there is no social peace without respect for those values, and Marian devotion helps the faithful live as faithful disciples of Christ so that they can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, Bishop concluded.
Prior to the Mass, Trini Muñoz and others faithful to a rosary tradition ended a pilgrimage with an Our Lady of Guadalupe icon by placing it in the church sanctuary. The image, which was brought from Mexico, had visited numerous homes during the preceding 46 days for small group recitations and other prayers.
St. Joseph’s Hispanic young adult group brought to life the story of Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego through a pre-Mass drama. The enactment took place before a crowd of about 300 people who seemed appreciative as well as engaged by special effects like a spotlight and fog machine that were employed to make the scenes more accurate and inspiring.
“This is the second year we’ve done it and I think the crowd is getting bigger. More young people are coming up to us and wanting to get involved,” said Nancy Flores, who heads the group with her husband, Cesar.
A reception that included a meal of chicken and rice, typical Mexican breads and desserts followed the Mass. Dancers entertained participants with Mexican folkloric dances.
About 250 families call St. Joseph their parish home, half of which Father Martinez estimates to be Spanish-speaking. Some of those have been in the LaGrange area for 15 or 20 years. They were first ministered to by Father Mark Weaver, followed by Father Paul Bueter. Father Martinez, a Franciscan friar, has cared for the parish for the last two years.
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