MIFFLINTOWN - The celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a centurys-old tradition for Hispanic Catholics around the world.
Honoring a 16th century appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Hispanic parishioners of St. Jude Thaddeus Church, Mifflintown, gathered last month for prayers, a procession, Mass and supper.
Commemorated around the Catholic world, but especially in Spanish-speaking countries, Dec. 12 marks three appearances outside Mexico City in 1531 to a Chicameca Indian convert named Juan Diego. The Virgin Mary asked that he request the city's bishop to build a chapel on the site of her visitation.
When Diego told the Virgin that the bishop required a sign that the appearances were true, she directed the peasant to a hilltop where roses were growing miraculously out-of-season. He gathered the roses in his tilma, a type of poncho, and carried them to the bishop.
When he dropped the roses in front of the bishop, an image of the Virgin Mary was imprinted miraculously on the tilma. The original tilma is placed above the main altar of the large shrine in Mexico City at the site of the appearances.
Festivities began with a 3 a.m. Dec. 12 gathering at St. Jude Church for prayers and hymns, welcoming the dawn of the feast day.
The 6:30 p.m. Mass in the evening was preceded with a procession from the social hall into the church carrying a replica of the original image, surrounded by flowers and blinking lights.
Adult and children parishioners dressed in colorful indigenous dress to replicate Juan Diego and the 16th century Indian people of Mexico. A dinner of traditional Hispanic foods followed in the social hall.
Juan Diego was canonized several years ago as an official Catholic saint. The Virgin Mary appears in the image as she appeared to Juan Diego, as a dark-skinned native. She spoke to him in his native language, not Spanish, the language of the conquistadors. Mexico had recently been conquered and rendered as a colony by Spain.
Cactus fiber tilmas usually deteriorate after two or three decades, but Diego's has remained firm and the image's colors vibrant, despite open-air exposure for its first 100 years of display. It is now behind sealed glass.
Scientific testing thus far has been unable to determine the nature of the actual image.
The Rev. William M. Weary is the pastor of St. Jude Thaddeus Church, Mifflintown, and Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Lewistown.