In the days leading up to her feast, Arkansans across the state lovingly displayed their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
At least three churches — St. Stephen in Bentonville, St. John Church in Russellville and St. Mary in North Little Rock — held novenas leading up to Our Lady’s celebration Dec. 12. In addition, there were several processions, including parishioners traveling from St. Edward Church in Little Rock to St. Mary Church in North Little Rock and from Christ the King Church to Immaculate Conception Church to St. Boniface Church, all in Fort Smith.
From Russellville, Warren, El Dorado, Danville and Lake Village, parishes held special Masses and celebrations with the singing of las mañanitas, a traditional Mexican birthday song sung in her honor.
“The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is more than 500 years old,” Father Alejandro Puello, pastor of St. Anne Church in North Little Rock, said. “It precedes the establishment of the United States and Mexico as countries.”
Father Puello said for years his parish has celebrated the feast with a two-mile procession and rosary, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in a 40-pound monstrance and display of Our Lady’s image on Sunday with singing and Mass on her feast the following morning.
“She appeared to an indigenous convert, and the people feel like they were specifically chosen by God to receive the blessing of her apparition,” Father Puello said. “Many people of Mexican descent consider themselves sons and daughters of the virgin first and Mexicans second because of this.”
“Spiritually, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings us closer to her son. Her role as a mother, as a faithful disciple, is an example of humility and obedience and encourages us to follow her example,” said Father Daniel Ramos, administrator of St. John Church and St. Leo the Great University Parish, both in Russellville. “She teaches us that in her there is no social status, ethnicities, languages, differences or stereotypes. She appeared to a humble man, San Juan Diego, to show that in the most insignificant one God is pleased.
“As a priest of the Diocese of Little Rock, where we have a huge percentage of Latino community, it is imperative to understand traditions and celebrate them for the spiritual growth of our communities. It is who we are, our identity before God and before others, our peace and consolation being so far away from home.”
Father Eddie D'Almeida, pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in El Dorado and St. Luke Church in Warren, said the churches have sponsored an all-night, 90-mile relay run from Magnolia to Warren and 50-mile bicycle ride from El Dorado to Warren in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Additionally, St. Luke hosted a mile-long procession, including parade floats and mariachi bands, in Warren on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 10. After the procession, the parish celebrated Mass followed by a feast in the new parish hall with about 300 people in attendance. On Sunday, Dec. 11, 30 people completed a 15-mile pilgrimage walk from Hermitage to Warren before Sunday Mass at 5 p.m.
Holy Redeemer in El Dorado held celebrations the afternoon of Dec. 10, with a mile-long procession with mariachis and parade floats, followed by Mass and a dinner party in the parish hall with 400 people. On her feast day, parishioners gathered at the church at 6 a.m. to sing las mañanitas followed by a traditional Mexican breakfast of sweet tamales – made with strawberries and pineapple, sweet breads, hot chocolate and coffee.
“This feast is a multi-day celebration with significant commitments and considerable planning,” Father D'Almeida said. “It takes several months of preparations and many, many hands in order for the entire celebration to occur. All of it comes from a great love for Our Mother, the patroness of the Americas.”
Father Mario Jacobo, pastor of St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith, said his parish joined Christ the King and Immaculate Conception for a procession between the three churches followed by a reception with tamales, Mexican sweet bread and champurrado, a Mexican-style hot chocolate.
“We had a beautiful celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Father Jacobo said. “The three churches joined together to have a procession to give witness to our faith.”
Father Jacobo said the feast is important for the devout as well as those who have fallen away from the Church.
“It is the only day of the year that many Catholics come home,” he said. “They come to see their mother, a mother who they know walks with them, a mother that embraces them, a mother who waits for her children to come home. It is a time of healing and thanksgiving.”
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