By Jacqueline Price
Every year for the past 50 years, Saint Leo the Great Parish in downtown San Jose, has held its nine-day Novena and Celebration to Our Lady of Guadalupe. With a large Hispanic community calling Saint Leo’s home, it is truly a collection of love and effort that come together to make this feast day celebration a reality.
It certainly is also a family affair and tradition with longtime parishioner and volunteer Rosi Arenas and her family, “Back in the late 60’s my Aunt and Uncle, along with fellow parishioners, celebrated Our Lady with a one-day celebration on her feast day. The current image of Our Lady at Saint Leo’s was given to them by Bishop Abelardo of Mexico City. Today, it has grown to be an entire eleven-day event.”
Virgen de Guadalupe is associated with the venerated image enshrined within the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City. The basilica is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, and the world’s third most-visited sacred site. Its location is in close proximity to the Hill of Tepeyac where the apparitions occurred.
The Virgin Mary appeared four times to Juan Diego, a native Mexican peasant, and once more Juan Diego’s uncle, with the first apparition occurring on the morning of December 9, 1531. Speaking to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec empire), the maiden identified herself as the Virgin Mary, “mother of the very true deity” and asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. John Paul II himself announced Juan Diego’s beatification on May 6, 1990, during a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, declaring him “protector and advocate of the indigenous peoples,” with December 9 established as his feast day. In 1999, the Church officially proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe the Patroness of the Americas, the Empress of Latin America, and the Protectress of Unborn Children.
December 3-13, 2015 was the week that this event took place this year at Saint Leo’s. Every night of the eight-day novena is filled with an abundance of grace as the children proceed up the aisle with flower offerings to Our Lady, placing them at her feet with splendid adoration and prayers.
On Friday night of the celebratory week, the community gathered to say the Holy Rosary in unison at 11 pm. After the Rosary, Mariachi processed in and sang mañanitas to La Virgen, or songs for Mary, for an hour or so, emulating the Mexican tradition that is held in Mexico City and broadcast on TV. Many attendees and their children dressed in traditional costume for the celebration with Juan Diegos of all ages in attendance.
Saturday brought a Mariachi Mass on the actual Feast Day leading to the fiesta celebration on Sunday as the culmination of the entire week. Sunday festivities began with a Mass and were to be followed by a five-block street processional led by a police car.
“Traditionally, our processional involves four men carrying the decorated platform holding the statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Multitudes of attendees follow behind praying the Rosary and singing. However, this year we were unable to do so given the weather,” said Father Marcelo Navarro.
Into the gym for the Fiesta, where children were excited to learn there would be piñatas! Traditional food was prepared by loving volunteer hands and served while entertainment abound. This year’s event featured Eric and Lizbeth Angel folklore dancers, the El Grito de Cultura and Folclórico Nacional Mexicano youth dancers, along with DJ Music (LYAA DJ Services) and donated raffles. New to this year’s event were the Movimiento Cultural Anahuac Aztec dancers who performed the traditional dance to La Virgen. Adorned in their vibrant, traditional Aztec costumes and sung in the native tongue, it was certainly a site to behold!
Throughout the Mexican national history of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Guadalupan name and image have been unifying national symbols. Saint Leo’s is proud to continue that tradition. Saint Leo’s Parish and school are celebrating 100 years of blessings through May of 2016. All past alumni of both parish and school are invited to be in touch with Saint Leo’s and attend their many centennial functions.