Our Lady of Guadalupe Church filled with song, music on Dec. 12 feast
At about 4:30 a.m. Dec. 12, just a few hearty souls in the St. Louis area were stirring.
Groggily, they turned on coffee pots, let out dogs or switched on local TV news, whatever to start preparing for the day's activities. Most others remained cozy under warm blankets, snoozing and dreaming in their final hours of sleep.
But the crowd at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church definitely was awake, wide awake -- no mistaking that. In fact, even though many had been at it for more than four-and-a-half hours, they were just getting started.
The Amescua and Canciones families filled the church with music and song, which organizer Santiago Solorio called "romantic" for its relatively quiet tone as compared to the next groups -- a solid wall of sound.
First, the 10-piece brass of Banda Aires del Sur played for about 20 minutes, then the 80-strong Banzantes del area de Puebla sang as they swayed down the center aisle -- children, women and men dressed in traditional Mexican clothes and stepping from side to side. One man carried a banner of Virgen de Guadalupe, the reason for this overnight fest.
Dec. 12 was the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and MaÃ±anitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe activities took place at her namesake parish in the Ferguson and a handful of other parishes in the St. Louis area. (MaÃ±anitas is a traditional Mexican birthday or feast day song.) St. Joseph in Manchester and St. Charles Borromeo also hosted overnight fests. St. Cecilia and St. Anthony of Padua in south St. Louis, Holy Trinity in St. Ann and Sacred Heart in Troy started at 5 or 5:30 a.m. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated Mass at St. Cecilia.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe, organizers went with the later starting time a few years ago but switched back to midnight.
"We've done the whole night maybe six years," Solorio said. "One year, we said we're not going to do the whole night; we're going to start at 4. But we had done it two or three years in a row, so people were coming at midnight."
And that was that.
"Pretty much, they told us they wanted it," he said. "We've been doing the whole night ever since."
Throughout the festivities Dec. 12, Solorio led the crowd in chants of "Viva San Juan Diego! Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! Viva Cristo Rey!" After each exhortation, the crowd responded with a hearty "Viva!"
The atmosphere in the church was joyful, fun and festive, which one would expect in the celebration of a feast. Msgr. Jack Schuler, the former pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe, summed up the festivities in one word.
"Exuberant," he said, then citing the prime example of "80 people dancing down the aisle singing."
Msgr. Schuler attended part of the festivities, arriving a little before 5 a.m. after a partial night of sleep. About half in the standing-room-only crowd of roughly 275 approached MaÃ±anitas as Msgr. Schuler did, attending part of the festivities. The rest pulled an all-nighter.
Solorio described them as "more committed to the Church. They are engaged."
They also like to be entertained, "to see the events," said Lydia Santiago, who played guitar with the families and for Misa. "Every hour is something different."
The early portion of the celebration -- the first three hours and 15 minutes -- consisted of singing, dancing, testimonials and Mass celebrated by Our Lady of Guadalupe's pastor, Father John-Paul Hopping. After half of the roughly 275 in church for that portion went home, the overnighters dined in the school cafeteria, spent time in silent prayer and prayed the Rosary, asking for the intercession of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
Then, more people arrived to fill the church again, and the next three-hour segment commenced. The singing families, the brass band and the dancers preceded Acto de las apariciones -- a re-enactment of Our Lady's appearance to St. Juan Diego in 1531, from Dec. 9 through Dec. 12. Characters included the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego and the archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de ZumÃ¡rraga.
Speaking to Juan Diego in his native Aztec tongue, the Virgin Mary told him that God exists and is greater than the Aztec gods of the sun and moon, and asked for a church to be built at the site, which is near Mexico City. Juan Diego told the story to the archbishop, who asked for proof. Mary provided it by instructing Juan Diego to pick roses on a barren hill in the cold temperatures and take them to the archbishop. He did as instructed, placed the rose in his cloak and went to the archbishop. When they met, he opened his cloak and found in the material the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as he had described.
Historical sources say that the archbishop accepted this sign, built the church and within six years, six million Aztecs converted to Catholicism.
Roses play a major role in MaÃ±anitas. At the Ferguson church, hundreds of roses adorned several large tables on the right site of the altar. A steady stream of arrivals brought bouquets for Our Lady; one woman crawled down the center aisle to deliver her bouquet. After the second Mass of the morning, celebrated by Jesuit Father Ricardo Vogt, the roses became a popular backdrop for photos, as did 28 poinsettias in front of the altar. Each display featured images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
A breakfast of homemade tamales, Mexican pastries and regular donuts followed in the cafeteria. Later in the morning, the parish hosted a brunch, following the third Mass of the day, celebrated by Msgr. William McCumber, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Richmond Heights, and attended by St. Luke parishioners, fourth-graders from St. Ferdinand School in Florissant and the archdiocesan superintendent of education, Kurt Nelson.
Food remained available throughout the night, but it wasn't central to the celebration: Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe was, however.
According to Solorio, the feast-day celebration is "typical for Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico." Carlos Alarcon experienced it there last year.
"I was by the airport, and whole night was boom, boom, boom ... they celebrated every hour," said Alarcon, who noted that each hour 5,000 people were in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe near the site of St. Juan Diego's visions. He called the scene, simply, "Beautiful."
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