WASHINGTON (CNS) — On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the U.S. bishops’ migration chairman reaffirmed the church’s solidarity with immigrants, “each one of them a brother or sister to us all.”

“When we speak about the issue of immigration, we are fundamentally addressing the movement of people — human persons created in the image and likeness of God,” said Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“Unfortunately, this truth is often obscured by political rhetoric, fearmongering and hyperbole. Our Lady of Guadalupe points us toward a better way, one that ultimately leads to reconciliation,” he said in a statement issued late Dec. 12.

“The bishops of the United States continue to affirm the natural right to migrate, balanced with the sovereign right of countries to uphold their borders, as well as their obligations to provide humane processes for newcomers,” Bishop Seitz added.

He said the bishops also believe that “time, resources and political will are best spent making structural improvements to our broken immigration system.”

With the arrival of “greater numbers of families and individuals at our border with Mexico,” the federal government must provide “critical infrastructure” to “meet their humanitarian needs.”

During Advent especially, “these newcomers are visible signs of Christ among us,” Bishop Seitz said. “Let us meet this moment not with policies of exclusion and indifference but with a spirit of compassion and generosity. We pledge our support and cooperation in meeting these challenges.”

He invited Catholics and all people of faith to pray “that through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we may give comfort to those forced to leave their homes, and may Our Lady be a guide to all those entrusted with the responsibility of leadership.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a symbol of unity, peace, compassion and hope for people around the world. She is the patroness of all the Americas.

Her feast day is marked by special Masses, colorful processions and the recitation of the rosary to commemorate Mary’s miraculous appearances as Our Lady of Guadalupe to the visionary St. Juan Diego at Tepeyac Hill near what is today Mexico City in December 1531, when she left her image on his “tilma,” or cloak.

Fiestas featuring mariachi bands and “matachines,” or dancers, also are part of celebrations of the Marian feast.

In the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, thousands of Catholics celebrated the Marian feast day with a pilgrimage to the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, where two Spanish-language Masses were celebrated.

About 3,000 pilgrims filled the pews to pray to Our Lady as they were serenaded by Mexican mariachis singing cultural and liturgical songs.

During his homily in Spanish, Brooklyn Bishop Robert J. Brennan told the faithful that Mary tells us, like she told St. Juan Diego in an apparition, not to fear, not to be afraid, for God is always with us, but especially during the difficult times.

Bishop Brennan also preached to a huge audience of young people, asking them to listen for God’s call as he may ask them to serve the church as priests or religious.

Following Mass the annual lighting of the torches took place on the steps of the co-cathedral. Bishop Brennan lit the torches carried by representatives from 44 parishes.

After the torch lighting, the pilgrims marched through the streets of Queens and Brooklyn to their respective parishes.

In Los Angeles, on eve of her feast day and just before midnight Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, an all-female lineup of singers serenaded the Virgin of Guadalupe with Las Mañanitas, a traditional Mexican birthday song.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the main celebrant of the annual Dec. 12 Mass, reminded the faithful that all countries of North, Central and South America are under the Virgin’s loving care and protection.

“The Virgin of Guadalupe is our mother. She reminds us of who we are, the dearest sons and daughters of God our Lord. And it is with her that we want to be, because she leads us to Jesus, she leads us to God,” the archbishop said.

“When we look into her eyes, we experience the love she has for each one of us, for our families, the church and the society in which we live. Maria de Guadalupe opens her arms, with tenderness and compassion and embraces us all with motherly love,” he said.

“In all her apparitions, the message of the Virgin Mary has always been like that of Tepeyac: She is the mother of all humanity, the mother of every person of every race and every language,” he added. “And where she is, her son, Jesus, cannot be missing, offering his love and his salvation.”

His homily echoed one he delivered some days earlier at an annual outdoor Mass at East Los Angeles College’s Weingart Stadium.

Our Lady of Guadalupe “always leads us to Jesus, who will show us the way to find peace,” he said Dec. 4. “Jesus will show us the way to the true happiness and love in our lives.”

“True conversion is to change the way in which we live,” Archbishop Gomez said in Spanish during his bilingual homily. “Let’s ask our Mother Mary to help us discover what are those small things we need to change in our lives.”

He reminded Massgoers of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message of hope, compassion, unity and love.

The liturgy followed a procession through the streets of East Los Angeles that included “andas,” or decorated handmade carts with framed images or statues brought by families and parish groups to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Themed “Holy Mary of Guadalupe, Mother of life and peace, pray for us,” the procession and Mass commemorated the 491st anniversary of the apparitions of Mary to the peasant Juan Diego, whose feast day is Dec. 9. He was canonized in 2002 by St. John Paul II.

The Mass featured the images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and of St. Juan Diego that had been hosted by several parishes and cemeteries of the Los Angeles Archdiocese since October.

The celebration is the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles. It was established by Mexican Catholics who fled persecution by the Mexican government during the Cristero War in 1931.