The observance honors the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican peasant, Juan Diego, beginning on Dec. 9, 1531.
Juan Diego was an Aztec who had converted to Catholicism, and the apparition told him to approach the bishop and tell him she wanted a church built there, according to Catholic tradition. The bishop insisted on a sign, and the Virgin Mary then told him to go to the top of the hill and he would find the sign.
He found roses growing in a spot where they shouldn’t have been growing. He cut the roses and wrapped them in his tilma, a cloak made of cactus fiber, and took the flowers to show the bishop. When he opened the cloak and took the flowers out, a brilliant image of the Virgin Mary had been imprinted in his cloak, according to the Catholic tradition.
The tilma still exists and those who see it frequently say the image floats above the surface. Studies have shown that it hasn’t been painted or dyed, said Mari Culver, coordinator of the Hispanic ministry at Our Lady of the Lake.
“The picture is miraculous. The serape should’ve deteriorated long ago. A bomb that was placed below it exploded and it was unharmed,” she said.
Tilmas made of similar fabric should last only 10 or 20 years, but Juan Diego’s tilma has lasted for almost 500 years.
The tilma can be seen in a cathedral in Guadalupe, Mexico, that was built to hold up to 10,000 worshipers. It’s the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere, according to catholic.org.
“Millions of people go up there,” Culver said.
“It was mainly because of the Aztecs that she appeared, Culver said. “They were doing sacrifices, and she wanted peace and reconciliation. That’s why she came.”
In the six years after the apparition, some 6 million Aztecs converted to Catholicism, according to catholic.org.
Some 125 people turned out for the Pell City event, which started with a performance by a group of Matachina dancers from Birmingham. Their costumes and dance are traditional parts of observing the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, known as the Patroness of the Americas.
“The dance was very beautiful and organized and powerful,” Culver said.
The bilingual Mass featured songs sung in Spanish, and was led by Father Alex Steinmiller of Holy Family Cristo Rey High School in Birmingham.
“It’s incredible to hear Father Steinmiller go from English to Spanish and back again. We didn’t want to divide the congregation and have separate services for English speakers and Spanish speakers.”
Integrating the Spanish speakers into the mainstream of the church “makes a big difference in our church, in my opinion,” she said.
Following Mass, there was a feast of tacos, tamales, enchiladas, sopapillas and more.
“Any kind of Mexican food you would want was there,” Culver said.
“I’m not Hispanic, but I love Our Lady of Guadalupe because it’s the only true image of the Virgin Mary in my opinion. It’s an incredible piece of artwork.”
For a more complete Catholic Church account of Our Lady of Guadalupe, visit http://www.catholic.org/about/guadalupe.php.