By BILL QUINNAN     12/7/2021

Thousands of Catholics throughout the Diocese will be up well before sunrise on Dec. 12, celebrating Mass and enjoying mariachi music, food and fellowship in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Dec. 12 marks the 490th anniversary of the Marian apparition, which changed the history of the Catholic Church in the Americas, and especially in Mexico.

According to tradition, the Blessed Mother first appeared to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on Tepeyac Hill on the outskirts of what is now Mexico City on Dec. 9, 1531. She asked Juan Diego, an indigenous convert to Christianity, to present the bishop with her request that a shrine be built in her name at the site.

The understandably skeptical bishop asked for a sign to prove the apparition, so Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac on Dec. 12. There the Blessed Mother appeared again, instructing him to gather roses that had bloomed on the hill out of season and pinning them to the inside of his mantle, or tilma. When Juan Diego opened the tilma to present the roses to the bishop, he also revealed an image of Our Lady that had been miraculously impressed upon the inside.

Juan Diego’s tilma is preserved at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, portraying the Blessed Mother as she had appeared at Tepeyac, with native features and attire, supported
by an angel and wearing a blue mantle covered in gold stars. A black girdle about her waist indicates that she is with child.

Our Lady of Guadalupe serves not only as the patroness of the Americas but was specifically chosen as patroness of the Diocese of Orange upon its founding in 1976. Father Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar at Christ Cathedral, finds the choice especially appropriate given the devotion of the Diocese’s thriving Hispanic community to Our Lady, as well as the presence of Mission San Juan Capistrano within its boundaries.

“The apparition speaks to everyone, because it reflects the dignity of all the people,” said Father Smith. “It represents respecting the life of every human being.”

Christ Cathedral honors Our Lady’s patronage throughout the year with a 10-by-7-foot mosaic representing the icon made of gold and opaque glass, visible from nearly every angle inside the church.

According to Armando Cervantes, Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Orange, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe “speaks to the soul, to the family (and) to the community in powerful ways.”

“Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a pillar of strength for a lot of people who cross the border without any family here,” he said. “Our Lady of Guadalupe might have been the only image in their pocket, or on their chest or on a keyring. That’s what kept them going – that faith, that story, that reminder that she will always be there.”

When these immigrants have children of their own, passing on the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is especially important, Cervantes noted.

“As I talk to the older generation about their children, they always say the same thing to me – ‘When I send them to school or whenever they leave the house to go to college, I entrust them to Our Lady,’” he said. “Even though it might not be the same as their treacherous journey, it’s still a journey, and they want their children to also experience that.”

Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe extends beyond the Hispanic community in the Diocese, Cervantes noted.

“I know parishes here in (the Diocese) that have a bilingual Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration,” he said. “It’s no longer something that the Hispanic community celebrates and everyone else just watches. It actually has become more of a communal celebration.”

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the canonization of Juan Diego, whose story Cervantes also finds universally relatable.

“Juan Diego’s canonization to me is a constant reminder … that you are part of the story, and you are called to listen to the voice of God and to live it out in the Church and in the world,” he said.

While someone suggested to Cervantes that the cathedral host a single feast day celebration for the Diocese, he believes parish celebrations are more practical and appropriate.

“There’s a beauty of a community coming together, a community who always journeys together throughout the whole year, to now come and celebrate together the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he said. “Every 12th of December, we make a big deal, from the music to the food, to the mariachi. It’s all with that underlying hope and a reminder of that beautiful story that she brings forth, a beautiful reminder of us being the children that she takes care of.”