LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Eileen Frutos has always been drawn to Mary.
A member of the World Apostolate of Fatima, she said she often prays with Mary and that her prayers have been answered.
“She's been amazing to our family,” said the Ventura resident Aug. 5 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
That's why Frutos and her husband were attending the Guadalupe Celebration that drew tens of thousands of Catholics from across Southern California to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe and to reverence a relic of the cloak on which her image miraculously appeared.
“I'm just here to honor her,” said Frutos, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Ventura. “To Jesus, through Mary — that's what I always say.”
Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Knights of Columbus and the Mexican nonprofit organization Instituto Superior de Estudios Guadalupanos, the event coincided with the 10th anniversary of the canonization of St. Juan Diego July 31, 2002; Juan Diego was the indigenous man to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, and upon whose cloak, or “tilma,” her image appeared.
The Guadalupe Celebration was a celebration in the literal sense. Attendees passed the time before the event began by doing “the wave,” and every now and then an attendee would cry out, “Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! (Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!)” to a resounding response of “Viva!”
But faith was the focus — and it's the reason Michelle Le boarded a bus in Orange County to travel into Los Angeles.
“Mother Mary put it in my heart that I have to attend,” said the parishioner at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove.
“All last night, I couldn't sleep!” she told the Orange County Catholic, newspaper of the Orange Diocese.
It was Le's first time at such an event, and she wasn't totally sure what to expect — so the living rosary was a surprise.
Formed of dozens of people from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the rosary processed onto the field. Knights of Columbus carried a massive cross to place on a stand, and others bore a massive centerpiece with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe's face on it.
But the “beads” were people — individuals and small groups — who carried open umbrellas beneath the sunny sky: blue for the Hail Mary beads, and white for the Our Father beads.
“We needed that,” said Le. “We are very united in the rosary.”
Unity was the overwhelming impression that Diana Contreras had as well. A native of El Salvador, the Los Angeles resident is a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
“I always come to all the events for Our Lady of Guadalupe, because I like them,” she said in Spanish.
“We all come together for the same reason: to remember that she is our mother. It doesn't matter where we're from.”
For some attendees, the celebration was a taste of what they hope one day to experience at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico, where the tilma is displayed above the altar.
“We have not been there yet,” said Carlos Letrondo, who traveled to Los Angeles on a bus from La Purisima Church in Orange. He and his wife, Norma, wanted to be a part of the celebration to get the flavor of a pilgrimage to the Mexico City basilica.
But this Guadalupe Celebration also included traditional dances, with dancers in vibrant costumes and headdresses, which Carlos enjoyed. Norma was thrilled by the re-enactment of Our Lady's appearance to Juan Diego. “It's a miracle,” she said simply.
And their friend Vergie Moebius — a neighbor from back in the Philippines — was simply excited to share the experience with them.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is home to the only known relic of St. Juan Diego's tilma in the United States — and the reliquary containing the tiny piece of fabric was displayed throughout the event, borne into the coliseum by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.
At the start of the celebration, he knelt before the relic and prayed to the Mother of the Americas, as Our Lady is also known: “Our Lady, we wish to be entirely yours.”
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez echoed that sentiment, saying of La Morenita — an affectionate name the Hispanic community often gives to Our Lady of Guadalupe: “She is our mother.”
And that is why the coliseum was filled with enthusiastic Catholics of all ethnicities, from all across Southern California.
As Frutos put it: “I'm just here to honor (Our Lady). I want to renew my faith through her.”
— By Elisabeth Deffner, Catholic News Service. Deffner is editor of the Orange County Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Orange.