ORLANDO | As hundreds of people across the diocese prepared to honor the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped traditional celebrations, reaching thousands via livestream and other creative solutions.
For more than 20 years, the community of St. Ann Parish in Haines City has celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with exultant joy. Parishioners gather each day of the novena, culminating on her honored feast day in various homes (Dec. 4-12). On Dec. 12, they pray, sing and rejoice in her honor. Although the pandemic changed the face of the celebration, nothing could prevent the faithful from honoring Our Lady.
Father Alfonso Cely, parish pastor, and Dominican Father Duberney Rodas, invited people “to connect” via livestream on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The online novena had 1,000 views, reaching far beyond parish boundaries, and even abroad. The hour-long devotion consisted of the rosary, music, reflections and prayers.
“The way people are praying together now is absolutely incredible… socially distanced and spiritually connected,” Father Cely said.
Because they cannot gather in large numbers, parishioners were also invited to set up altars at home and to send in photos. Images poured in. At the end of the novena, Father Cely awarded prizes for the top three most beautiful altars.
The feast day celebration was modified with Mañanitas Mass at 5 a.m. with a mariachi band, all livestreamed. Families prayed outside near a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe while volunteers helped maintain safety protocols. One thousand roses adorned the sanctuary, recalling the roses in Juan Diego’s tilma that ultimately revealed the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
“To see this community and see the devotion they have is incredible for me,” Father Cely said. “If on the day of celebration, I don’t become Guadalupano, then I’m dead because they inject the energy needed to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe very well.”
Rather than the usual procession to the Lake Eola Amphitheatre for the re-enactment of the miracle in Tepeyac, Mexico, Lisette Saint-Hilaire and her Guadalupe staff coordinated a caravan of 55 cars, from Good Shepherd Parish to St. James Cathedral in Orlando with the help of various organizations around the diocese.
Led by a large wooden cross and a statue of Our Lady, the caravan processed through Orlando streets while the faithful prayed the rosary and evangelized with their presence. Father Miguel González, rector of the cathedral, explained the procession was a way of keeping the tradition of the feast day celebration alive.
Beginning just before 4 p.m., Dec. 12, the event was facilitated by several parish Emmaus organizations and a brigade of volunteers, including traffic coordinator Adrian González, Father González’s brother. The 4.5 mile journey to St. James Cathedral took little more than 30 minutes making its way along Semoran Blvd., Lake Underhill and Rosalind Ave. Turning onto Court Street, a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe greeted the pilgrims. The crowds offered flowers to the Virgin, harking to the miracle when the famous image appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma. Standing to offer them a benediction with the Blessed Sacrament was Deacon Luis Abreu of St. John Vianney Parish and Father González.
“This is something very special,” Saint-Hilaire, said. “We wanted to take to the streets as a reminder of Mary’s words, ‘Am I, your mother, not here?’ Especially this year.” Saint-Hilaire reflected on the similarities of the caravan’s journey to the cathedral where they found Jesus in the benediction. “Isn’t that the role of Our Lady, to bring us to her son?”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, December 16, 2020