Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Fatima Calderon, 4, is fascinated by the colorful display of flowers beneath the altar.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Fatima Calderon, 4, is fascinated by the colorful display of flowers beneath the altar.
For Hispanics in the Salem area, celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has not always been easy.

“When I moved here in 1992, there was no celebration at all,” said Max Díaz, the coordinator for this year’s celebration in Salem.

He recalls the celebration in Mexico, “a huge event packed with people who came to pray,” with fondness. Because there wasn’t really anything being done, he and a few others decided to start organizing a celebration.

In 1995, Díaz and a group of Hispanics organized the feast, holding their celebration in the gym at St. Joseph.

Even though St. Joseph Church was left open for their use for a few hours, they weren’t able to celebrate Mass. “We just had some special music and prayed the rosary,” said Díaz.

As the years have gone by, the small celebration that began in the corner of a gym has become a large event, with people traveling for miles to participate. This year, more than 5,000 people attended the celebration on Dec. 12 at the Pavilion on the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem.

The same excitement as in years past could be felt among the people, a testament to the devotion and enthusiasm that Hispanic Catholics feel toward the dark-skinned Virgin. Every year the Mass brings together elements of the Hispanic culture like music, Aztec dances and songs that lead up to the celebration of the Mass. As they gather to pray, they reaffirm their traditions and culture.

This year’s celebration began on Sunday, Dec. 11, at St. Joseph Church, where the altar was decorated especially for Our Lady of Guadalupe. In both the church and the gymnasium everything was arranged to allow for prayer throughout the vigil and later for singing the traditional “Las Mañanitas,” a serenade to the Virgin, at dawn on Dec. 12.

Díaz reiterated the importance of the vigil because he feels it represents the very moment when everyone is able to pray and give thanks to the Holy Mother for her many blessings and for being the pillar of the Church. Rosaries were prayed throughout the night and the celebration was filled with the sounds of woodwinds, flutes and saxophones. Nearly 2,500 people participated in this year’s vigil celebration.

María Helena Ruíz, the coordinator of Hispanic ministry at St. Joseph, noticed that the atmosphere among the community was a little different this year. “There seemed to be a much stronger devotion this year, mostly, I think, because so many people are having financial struggles and difficulty finding jobs,” said Ruíz.

Despite the number of people without work this year, attendees were still more than willing to contribute. People made donations of coffee, sugar, and cups, among other things, for the all-night celebration.

The two-day festivities included a Mass presided over by Archbishop John Vlazny in the Pavilion in Salem on the evening of Dec. 12.

Although the Mass didn’t begin until later in the evening, people arrived to an already festive atmosphere as various musical groups had been performing since the afternoon.

The archbishop, fluent in Spanish, greeted the people with an adaptation of Pope John Paul’s message to the Mexican people when he visited the basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1979: “Stay with us, dear Virgin, in our homes, in our parishes, in our hearts — particularly in this time of Advent, while we prepare again for the coming of your holy son at Christmas in grace and glory.”

The archbishop reminded the people that, in virtue of baptism, all are “guadalupanos,” messengers in word and deed of God’s good news, just like Mary and St. Juan Diego.  

Mary came to the people of the new world in the 16th century as a messenger of her son, but was more than a messenger, the archbishop explained. She herself was the message, because by appearing as a pregnant woman, she was carrying the Savior of the world in her own person.  

As baptized and confirmed Christians, we too carry the person of Christ in our own person, differently but truly, the archbishop told the crowd. This is the privilege of all people, he explained, not just the rich and powerful, but also those who are humble and despised.

Catholic Christians, Archbishop Vlazny concluded, have come to know Jesus with the help of his mother, to love him and to follow him as disciples and friends. Because we are such good friends, he told the crowd, we want others to come to know our friend, Jesus, too.

— Translation by Katy Devine