Thousands of traditional Mexican dancers processed from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish to St. Mary’s Basilica Dec. 8 in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The procession was followed by a Mass, celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Our Lady of Guadalupe should inspire the faithful to serve others, “even those who hate us,” Fr. Gary Regula said in his homily Dec. 8 during the annual Honor Your Mother celebration in downtown Phoenix.

“We must remember that Our Lady is here to bring us together,” the pastor of St. Benedict Parish said. “She has instructed us to, ‘Do whatever He tells you to do.’”

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares celebrates Mass in front of St. Mary’s Basilica Dec. 8 in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Ignacio Rodriguez, associate director of Ethnic Ministries, estimated the crowd to be well over 3,000. Matachines, traditional Mexican dancers who perform in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, began the event with a procession from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish to St. Mary’s Basilica before the noon Mass.

This year, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish of Glendale and St. Benedict Parish co-hosted the event. Many other parishes chipped in as well. Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares celebrated the Mass.

“The event highlights the significance of the patroness of the diocese and why she came — to be a bridge builder between two cultures,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what we’re called to do here in Phoenix, though we realize there are more than two cultures here.”

Fr. Regula echoed those sentiments in his bilingual homily.

“People may judge us, but we’re called to love them anyway. We must extend our hand, and love our brothers and sisters,” he said. “That is how we honor our mother. It’s not easy, but that’s how our mother does things — and she is mother to us all.”

And the Blessed Mother directed everyone to her Son.

See more photos from the event

“She is a grace given to us,” Fr. Regula said. “If we wish to honor her, we will do what Jesus said. Go out into the world and love. The love of Jesus Christ has already destroyed death and given us new life.”

The Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531, asking for a church to be built in her honor on Mount Tepeyac in modern-day Mexico City. She instructed Juan Diego to gather roses into his tilma, or cactus-fiber cloak, and present them to the local bishop.

The roses left the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a mestiza woman with Spanish and indigenous features. The apparition led to the conversion of millions and the miraculous image is kept in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Mount Tepeyac.

Scientists cannot explain many things about the image, including why the cactus-fiber cloak still exists. Such fabric usually disintegrates after a few decades. More than 20 million pilgrims a year go to see the image.

This year marked the seventh year of the diocesan Honor Your Mother celebration, which began as an offshoot of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Justice for Immigrants Task Force. Throughout the years, the dignity of each person — especially the unborn and the undocumented — has been a focal point.

“The diocese at large has a love and affinity for this event,” said Armando Ruiz of Mary’s Ministries, who’s been involved from the beginning. He said authentic, Catholic celebrations are even more important today because the secular culture is misusing Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image.

“The sacred and Catholic symbols are being used for commercial and political purposes,” he said. “We have to be aware of that and protect what’s Catholic, traditional and sacred.”

Ruiz noted that the annual event inspired “mini” Honor Your Mother events that take place throughout the year, bringing Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message to the parishes.

The matachines have united and share an exact replica of the Our Lady of Guadalupe image they obtained from the basilica in Mexico City. The image is passed from one group to the next throughout the year. When a group hosts the image, they organize daily rosaries before it.

At the end of the week, the image is presented to the next group of danzantes in the church after Sunday Mass. Steve Lopez, who coordinates the matachines with his wife, Gloria, said they’d handed out more than 2,000 rosaries since October.

“We’re educating the Catholic community about Hispanic roots,” Lopez said. “When the Blessed Mother appeared, she changed the entire hemisphere. We’re continuing to educate so people know why they’re dancing. It’s not about good exercise.”

Sharing the image has also led to conversions, he said.

“The more we bring out our Blessed Mother, the more we realize why she came here,” Lopez said. The matachines are gathering Jan. 19 at St. Augustine Parish for a Mass with Bishop Nevares.

The annual event exemplifies the diocesan family, said Fernando Camou, a parishioner from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale.

“The Mother of God is inviting us to follow her Son,” he said. “For us as Mexicans, it’s special that she appeared in Mexico. But she didn’t just come for us. She’s our pride, but we must share her.”