ORLANDO | Celebrations to honor the patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, began before sunrise at Resurrection Parish in Winter Garden. Parishioners prayed the rosary and sang the traditional Las Mañanitas, a Mexican birthday celebration tune. By mid-morning, Bishop John Noonan celebrated Mass with nearly 500 people at Misión Guadalupana, a mission church in Wahneta. Finally, at 2 p.m., parishes around the diocese hooked floats to their cars and set out by the hundreds in the second year of Caravana Guadalupana, making their pilgrimage to St. James Cathedral on the anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition to Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico.
In the pre-dawn hours, Resurrection parishioners could be heard praying and singing between each decade of the rosary. Ricardo Hernandez Acosta immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 from Hidalgo, Mexico. He recalled his aunt and mother asking him to stop by the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. They told him, “Put yourself in (Our Lady’s) hands so she may accompany you wherever you go.” He said, “I did that and here I have had many beautiful experiences with her. It is reassuring to know that she always accompanies us, that she listens to us, to know that she’s always interceding for us as our mother.”
Now Acosta has three children and said he’s passing the faith to his family. “Many of us come and our idea is to work and progress to be successful here,” he said. In the process, he noted many compatriots lose their faith because they stop practicing. “When I realized that, I tried to increase the faith of our children and others by sharing about Our Lady, the faith of Our Lord, our salvation—so it would reach others and it is not lost.”
As the mariachi band began singing Las Mañanitas, Rafaela Guzmán Rivero, dressed in a traditional Mexican embroidered dress, danced her way up to the beautiful display of flowers and candles that lay at the feet of a statue of Our Lady. She says this celebration is something she looks forward to each year. She has many images of the Blessed Virgin in her home and asks Mary to pray for her. “I love her because she is my protectress,” she said.
As the sunlight spread over the city, others were preparing for Mass at Misión Guadalupana. Bishop John Noonan concelebrated along with the mission’s administrator pro tem, Father Luis Osorio. Hundreds of people, mostly of Mexican origin, joined in the celebration wearing traditional costumes and bringing their statues of Our Lady to be blessed.
Reminding the crowd how the Virgin of Guadalupe’s message of hope on Dec. 12, 1531, helped Juan Diego to know her Son, Jesus Christ, the bishop affirmed the message today remains the same: “That we must know, love and serve her Son, Jesus Christ” (CLICK FOR HOMILY).
Hours later, hundreds of parishioners from 11 parishes gathered in six locations for the pilgrimage known as Caravana Guadalupana.
When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Lisette Saint-Hilaire and her “Guadalupe staff” from performing their traditional re-enactment of the apparition scenes in Tepeyac at Lake Eola, a staffer recommended they gather a caravan. Last year they met at one parish. This year the staff was more ambitious, inviting all parishes in the Diocese of Orlando to participate. Ultimately, 11 joined, making their own floats to evangelize through neighborhoods.
This was the first time Holy Cross parishioners, Lorena López and her husband, Guionny, participated. Originally from Jamundí, Colombia, López said the celebration was reminiscent of the event in her hometown. As she stopped to pray before the Blessed Sacrament (the final stop in the caravan), she said her mother was simultaneously celebrating in Colombia. “What is gratifying is that we are doing something to exalt Our Lady,” she said.
Saint-Hilaire began honoring Our Lady when she was 13, after her brother, Fernando Aveitua, then age 17, received a copy of the transcript of the conversations between Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego. She played the role of the Virgin and he was Juan Diego. When he died suddenly after the tenth re-enactment, she thought she could not go on, but 18 years ago she revived the tradition with the help of her former St. John Vianney pastor, Father Miguel González. Now, he and current parochial administrator, Father Carlos Cabán, guide the Guadalupe staff spiritually.
“It has been a wonderful blessing to see other parishes join in the caravan for this pilgrimage with the Holy Virgin and to receive a benediction (at the end of the caravan),” said Father González. “It has been wonderful to witness.”
Calling to mind how Our Lady used the symbols and language of the Indians in Tepeyac to communicate God’s love Saint-Hilaire noted, “Four hundred ninety years ago (Our Lady) came to give us a message of unity. She didn’t come to say you’re better, you were bad, you’re more, you are less. She said, if you guys work together, you’re going to come up with something wonderful, something new. And that is something we can all do as a community… I believe that message does not expire.”
“The main motivator in our team is that if one heart, throughout this caravan, turns to God or thinks about Him or makes peace with Him or talks with Him or Mother Mary or goes back to church, then everything was worth it.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff, December 15, 2021