Serenading Our Lady

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

Dancers from multiple dance troupes participated in the celebration. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen/NTC)

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For Erica Aguilar, it was a sacrifice worth making. The young mother bundled up her five young children against the winter cold and traveled from Decatur to St. Patrick Cathedral in the wee hours of the morning to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe on her December 12 feast day.

“Our family is from Mexico and she is our special saint,” explained Aguilar who manages the Danza Azteca Guadalupana with her husband, Jorge. The troupe of young Matachines — known culturally as soldiers of the Virgin -- danced in her honor at the celebration. “My brother’s middle name is Guadalupe because he was born on December 12. We grew up thanking her for everything we had.”

In 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to Mass when he found a beautiful Indian woman standing on top of Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. The apparition, which occurred during the Aztec winter solstice, became known as Our Lady of Guadalupe and the day her holy image appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma is celebrated as her feast day. A church built on the spot of the miracle, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the most frequented Marian shrine in the world.

Centuries after the apparition, the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe is observed in shrines and churches across the Americas with special liturgies, processions, and vigils. The 6 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral was one of many Masses celebrated in parishes across the Diocese of Fort Worth to honor the mother of Jesus.

Dressed in red, Aztec-inspired costumes embellished with beads and feathers, the school-age Matachines from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Decatur were part of the pre-dawn festivities that started with a serenade in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe statue. The Mariachi Real de Alvarez began the ceremony with the “mananitas” a traditional Mexican song heard on birthday and holidays.

“Mananitas means morning so it’s the birthday morning song. It’s a serenade that’s done early in the day — sometimes at midnight,“ said Tina Valdez, who served on the celebration’s organizing committee. “In the Hispanic culture, you sing the mananitas before the Happy Birthday song.”

Young members of Ballet Folklorico Azteca de Fort Worth, a Mexican folk dance organization, also paid homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe with a spirited performance of Jalisco and Nuevo Leon before the Mass. They danced the traditional “Jarabe Tapatio”--Mexican hat dance — during a post-liturgy reception in the parish hall.

Many worshippers drove from Arlington and Dallas to the cathedral to witness the early morning music and dancing tributes to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Their own parishes had scheduled an evening liturgy for the feast day.

“But they wanted to participate in a ceremony that was more traditional because in Mexico it’s done in the early morning,” Valdez added. “The celebration is part of our culture and very close to our heart. Our Lady of Guadalupe is our mother.”

A symbol of Mexican identity, ardent devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is ever-present in many Mexican-American households. Growing up, Martha Prud’homme could relate to the indigenous characteristics of the Marian image.

“She’s brown like me and has dark hair and eyes like I do,” says the Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioner who attended the service with her 10-year-old niece, Audrianna Cardoza for a reason. “It’s important for us to teach the next generation the values of our culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe is part of who we are as Mexican-Americans. She’s an icon.”

Prud’homme remembers how her childhood home had four of five pictures of the Virgin scattered in various rooms. It was a family tradition she continued after marrying Steve Prud’homme, the athletic director at Nolan Catholic High School.

“My husband thought he had walked into a church,” she laughs, recalling how her own décor includes a collection of Our Lady of Guadalupe images.

During the cathedral Mass, St. Patrick pastor Monsignor Joseph Pemberton recalled the dedication and love for Our Lady of Guadalupe he witnessed while visiting the basilica dedicated to her in Mexico City.

“The first thing that struck me was watching the people crawl on their knees up to the basilica,” the celebrant recalled in his homily. “The profound simplicity of their faith was so innocent and childlike. I was moved by that.”

Juan Diego, the poor Indian who saw the apparition, represents all the broken, lost people of the world, he said.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe, came to Juan Diego and said to the world through him, ‘I am the mother of the lost. I am the mother of the broken. I am the mother of those who feel unwanted and unloved,’” Msgr. Pemberton added.

The Virgin continues to speak to her people centuries later. Proclaimed the Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe champions the downtrodden and protects the unborn.

“When you feel a little broken in your life, and you feel that life as not been good to you, come to Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Msgr. Pemberton urged. “She is the mother of the sorrowful and broken. That is expressed so beautifully in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

For Erica Aguilar, it was a sacrifice worth making. The young mother bundled up her five young children against the winter cold and traveled from Decatur to St. Patrick Cathedral in the wee hours of the morning to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe on her December 12 feast day.

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