HARTFORD – Before the Sunday noon Mass at St. Peter Church, one young woman placed a two-foot-tall statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the steps of the sanctuary and lit a tall candle in front of it. A family deposited a bouquet of yellow and coral roses in a vase. Small children brought tiny baskets. Many others clutched framed images of Our Lady of Guadalupe – all carried there from places of honor in their homes.
In a timeless tradition, Hispanic Catholics throughout the state expressed their deep devotion to the Virgin Mary in celebrations of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated this year on Dec. 12. Within the archdiocese, the communities of Hartford, Meriden and Wallingford hosted three of the largest Guadalupe feast-day celebrations.
The festivities in Hartford stretched over four days and began on Friday, Dec. 9, at Sacred Heart Church on Winthrop Street, with a special Mass for Saint Juan Diego, a native of Mexico, who is said to have witnessed an apparition of a dark-skinned Mary in 1531 near present-day Mexico City and returned with her image on his cloak. The image itself is known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The celebration in Hartford continued on Sunday, Dec. 11, with a colorful morning procession with a statue of Our Lady from St. Anne-Immaculate Conception Church on Park Street to St. Peter Church on Main Street, followed by a percussive dance performance by Danza Azteca of Wallingford. Next came a solemn Mass at noon at St. Peter, punctuated by music from Mariachi Mexico Antiguo and followed by a buffet lunch in the church hall.
Approximately 80 people marched in the procession and about 200 attended the Mass.
After Sunday’s Mass, many families posed for photos in front of the giant framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was positioned high above the altar and flanked by statues of white angels.
Monday morning, Dec. 12 – the religious feast day – drew the biggest crowd in Hartford when nearly 400 Hispanics and other Catholics drawn from the city and its surrounding towns gathered at St. Peter for a 5 a.m. performance by the Mariachi group and a 6 a.m. solemn Mass dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Mass was concelebrated by all priests who serve the Hispanic community in the city of Hartford.
Pedro Ruiz, head of the Guadalupe Committee that coordinates Hartford’s multi-day celebration, talked about Hispanic Catholics’ dedication to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“John Paul II named her the Virgin of the Americas and obviously we know she presented herself in various countries, but at the end of the day, she’s still Mary,” Mr. Ruiz said. He noted that the image she left on Juan Diego’s cloak is a true and physical representation of the metaphysical mother of God and that her feast day is a national holiday in Mexico.
While Mexicans have an historic connection to the feast day and to the patroness of the Americas, Hartford-area Hispanics from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Brazil and other nations also turned out for the Masses and festivities. “You can pretty much name the country,” Mr. Ruiz said. “A minimum of 10 to 12 countries took part in the celebration today.”
Father Carlos Echavarria, administrator of both St. Peter and Sacred Heart parishes, celebrated the Sunday noon Mass. Originally from Colombia himself, Father Echavarria also acknowledged the special love that Latin Americans have for Mary.
“That is something in our blood, our affection for Mary,” he said. “Our grandmothers and mothers had statues in our homes. And the Mexicans are so connected to Our Lady of Guadalupe, it’s said that ‘Every Mexican is a Guadalupano.’”
During Sunday’s lunch in the church hall, Father Echavarria proudly snapped cell phone photos of the children who sang to the accompaniment of Mariachi Mexico Antiguo as they entertained the crowd. The children also sang earlier in the day at the Mass.
Seven children are enrolled in a program at Sacred Heart Church, where the professional Mariachi group is teaching them to play instruments and to sing traditional Mexican folk music, Father Echavarria explained.