The streets of downtown Phoenix were transformed Dec. 5 as thousands demonstrated their love and devotion for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Dressed in brightly colored native attire and feathered headdresses bedecked with jewels and beads, parade participants lined up along Jefferson Street near Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish.
The 10th annual ‘Honor Your Mother’ extravaganza celebrating the patroness of the Diocese of Phoenix was underway. Colorful floats that featured images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and traditional matachine dancers delighted the crowd that stood along Monroe, just in front of St. Mary’s Basilica. Shouts of “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” echoed as onlookers held babies aloft and snapped pictures and videos with their cell phones.
Standing on a raised platform opposite the diocesan gardens adjacent to the basilica, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of the Diocese of Phoenix smiled and offered their blessings to the dancers who spun, swirled and beat drums as they passed before the stage. One group included a smattering of tuba, trombone and trumpet players. Others wore splashy, multi-colored masks as they danced their way down Monroe, some burning incense.
More than 70 parishes and organizations took part in the joyous celebration. It was a bold celebration of the simple Virgin whose appearances to St. Juan Diego nearly 500 years ago led to mass conversions in a land where ritual human sacrifice was the order of the day.
“She converted them,” said Ignacio Rodriguez, associate director of the Office of Ethnic Ministries for the diocese. “We need her today more than ever. It’s great that you see old people here, you see young children here, just everybody really finding a way to say yes.”
Rodriguez agreed that the event was a bold demonstration of affection for the Virgin Mary. “I think that’s how she came into the world. She appeared boldly — even though she was very humble in her appearance — but what she brought was a very bold message.”
Tomasa Nava, one of the matachines from Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa, fell to her knees on the pavement on Monroe when a midday outdoor Mass that followed the procession reached the Liturgy of the Eucharist. She’d attended the event last year, but had been having heart problems and couldn’t dance. This year, she made good on a promise to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“I had a very difficult year and I promised her that if I managed to make it out of all of that, I would come and dance for her,” Nava said. “It’s a great thing because God gave me a new opportunity at life and he helped me in my most difficult moments.”
Fr. Andres Arango, pastor of St. Gregory Parish, gave the homily at the bilingual Mass.
“Today is a day when we are changing the history of this place,” Fr. Arango said. “We have made the streets a holy place … it’s a place where many activities take place but now it’s a place of God because of His presence.”
Fr. Arango spoke of filling in for another priest at a parish in Colorado where a wedding was supposed to have taken place. Although the bride, guests, music and food were all in place, a powerful storm prevented the groom’s arrival. They decided to go ahead with the party anyway, and Fr. Arangro drew a lesson for the faithful about Advent and Christmas from the experience.
“We can have joy, music, songs, dances, celebrations, but we run the risk of forgetting the essential presence of God, to be focused on the Lord,” Fr. Arango said. “The Spirit of God is essential and central to our lives. Everything else passes. … This is a beautiful celebration, but don’t miss the most important thing: God and having a pure heart.”
Veronica Perez, who teaches junior high at St. Agnes Catholic School and is active in the pro-life movement, said she was devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“She appeared in Mexico, the country where I was born. In no other American country she revealed her image,” Perez said. “Our Lady gives a message of love for life.”
Although most of those who attended Honor Your Mother were Hispanic, hailing from Mexico as well as Central and South America, there were many non-Hispanics who took part as well. A group of 10 Eritrean Catholics attired in their traditional white garments sat near the stage.
Angelica Lascola, from Indonesia, a mostly Muslim country where Christians are persecuted for the faith, said it was important for her to be at the celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“This moment is really a faith moment to express that we truly believe and trust in Mother Mary, that she will always pray and protect us,” Lascola said. “It’s a strength to have a special devotion to Mother Mary.”