By By Catholic News Service     12/8/2015

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Tens of thousands of people from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties marched down East Los Angeles streets Dec. 6 to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, in the 84th annual procession and Mass.

Themed “Mother of Mercy,” the event took place ahead of the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It aimed to prepare Catholics for the Year of Mercy, opening Dec. 8. Pope Francis designated the jubilee year to encourage Catholics worldwide to rediscover the mercy of the Lord.

During his homily for the Mass, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez also prayed for all those who died and those who were injured in the mass shootings Dec. 2 at a county social services center in San Bernardino, entrusting the victims to the mercy of God.

The mile-long Guadalupe procession — the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles — included colorful floats, equestrian groups, mariachis, indigenous dancers, and Catholic school students escorting the Peregrina, the official Los Angeles archdiocesan pilgrim image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Many wore red and green attire to resemble the flag of Mexico where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego.

The procession ended at East Los Angeles College Stadium in Monterey Park. White doves were released as the Peregrina entered the stadium, where Archbishop Gomez celebrated a special Mass in her honor.

“We want to pray to the Virgin today in a special way for our brothers and sisters in San Bernardino. Let’s pray for the families of those who were killed and pray for healing for those who were wounded,” said Archbishop Gomez during his homily. “Let’s entrust the innocent victims to the mercy of God and let’s ask Our Mother of Mercy to bring conversion to the hearts of all those who are consumed by hatred.”

Sunday’s Mass also included a musical lineup of traditional songs in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe performed by several mariachi groups. At the end of Mass, Catholics venerated the blessed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe with roses.

In 1531, Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego, a humble native, at Tepeyac near modern-day Mexico City, and asked him to build a church on a hilltop. She miraculously left her image on his cloak, or tilma, which he presented to the bishop as proof of her request. Since then, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a symbol of faith, unity and mercy for people all over the world.

“During this Year of Mercy, let’s try to walk more closely with God on “two-way street” of mercy — receiving God’s mercy and showing mercy to others,” said Archbishop Gomez.

This year’s pilgrimage of the framed images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego began Oct. 9 at St. Joseph Church in Carpinteria.

Catholics from more than 20 parishes and three detention centers in the three-county archdiocese welcomed the images with worship services and parish celebrations, leading up to the annual procession and Mass in East Los Angeles.