Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed during a Mass in 2007 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Rochester, N.Y. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed during a Mass in 2007 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Rochester, N.Y. (CNS/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

Hispanic Catholic communities are celebrating the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, this week through traditional prayer, procession and song.

The feast commemorates the appearance of Mary over several days in 1531 to peasant Juan Diego in the hills outside of Mexico City.

Mary had asked Juan Diego, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002, that a church be built on the site. At first the local bishop hesitated in responding to the request from the saint-to-be and asked Mary for a sign. Juan Diego returned to the rocky mountaintop and gathered an assortment of roses, an impossibility in normally cold mid-December. As further evidence, Mary left her image on the peasant’s tilma, made of ayate, a low quality cactus cloth typically worn by the poor of the region.

The church on the site, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world.

To this day, 477 years later, the tilma and its indelible image survive in remarkable condition. Experts are at a loss to explain why is still exists. Normally, such cloth deteriorates in 20 years.

Praying a nine-day novena, culminating on the feast day, is one of the most common ways Mexican Catholics celebrate the feast. During the period people visit the sick and homebound, provide food baskets for the needy and support mourners who have lost loved ones.

At Hispanic parishes people gather late on the night of Dec. 11 to pray and sing as they prepare to conclude the novena with Mass early the next morning.

And then it’s on to Christmas.

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