SALEM — On a cool evening Dec. 12, a crowd of 5,000 gathered at the Oregon State Fairgrounds to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The liturgy and fiesta bind cultural traditions, faith, memories of the past and a hoped-for legacy for future generations.
Catholic parishes across Oregon had smaller celebrations, many starting in the dark of night, resuming at dawn and continuing through the day.
The Salem celebration was one of the largest, with faithful from St. Joseph, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Edward parishes. No single church would hold this melded congregation. That's why the parishes rent a massive pavilion.
"It is the place that is right for the number of people who come," Maria Elena Ruiz of St. Joseph told El Centinela.
Organizers work hard on the celebration. A statue of Mary was at the center, surrounded by a representation of the sky the whole assembly could see from the packed stands.
Ruiz says the celebration helps her see the faith of Hispanic Catholics, many of whom are in dire financial straits. "It amazes me how people feel so up when they lack the most basic needs. They always turn to be in the hands of the Virgin of Guadalupe so she can intercede for them with our Lord Jesus Christ."
Ruiz says the devotion is a reminder of God in this world, "where technology is consuming us as individuals and we are forgetting to feel and live with God and for God."
Worshipers dress in their finest. Children come in costume as St. Juan Diego, the man who encountered Mary on a hill in Mexico City in 1531. The miraculous image of Mary, captured on St. Juan Diego's cloak, is fundamental in the life of Hispanics.
Many grow wistful this time of year, recalling the celebrations of their childhood and remembering loved ones in Mexico.
"Faith is what helps us to keep going," Ruiz explains.
Miguel Huerta, 48, played guitar for the celebration. He has been part of a St. Joseph choir for five years. Four choirs collaborated for the Mass at the fairgrounds. For him, it is important that other cultures learn about the Guadalupe tradition.
“I could see already in the past years, Anglos came to our big celebration and not only for religion or faith purpose, but to learn and share our culture," says Huerta, whose mother and daughter in Mexico are both named Guadalupe. He credits his mother for building his faith.
“I always remember the stories, the rosaries we prayed and the pilgrimages we have to make for the feast in our town," he says.
Max Diaz of St. Joseph Parish stops everything on Nov. 25 to start working full time planning and organizing the feast. He's been involved since 1989.
Parishioners create grand altars for Guadalupe devotions. A St. Joseph Parish altar was covered with 1,000 roses, signifying the flowers Mary gave to Juan Diego as a sign of her presence and favor. The image of the Virgin comes from St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
Diaz, who led 70 organizers, is glad to do the countless hours of work for Our Lady.
“I cannot explain with words how I feel," he says. "Her presence in my life is so important that I look to her every single time. In the good times, in the bad times, I ask her support and love, always. I feel it deep in my heart. She saves us all. We can have a salvation and a world of peace if we pray to her."