Church focusing on plight of migrants, refugees as it honors ‘Patroness of the Americas’

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PROVIDENCE — The annual celebration of the “patroness of the Americas” will truly be a feast for all the senses featuring two days of music and culinary delicacies enjoyed in many Latin American countries, along with mariachi singers and Aztec dancers performing in the aisles of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.

It will also be a moment of reflection on the plight of refugees and migrants across the United States. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to be a Day of Prayer, a time to place before a merciful God the hopes, fears and needs of all those families who have come to the U.S. seeking a better life.

“As Christmas approaches and especially on this feast of Our Lady, we are reminded of how our savior Jesus Christ was not born in the comfort of his own home, but rather in an unfamiliar manger,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “To all those families separated and far from home in uncertain times, we join with you in a prayer for comfort and joy this Advent season,” Cardinal DiNardo added.

Prayer services and special Masses will be held in many dioceses across the country as the Catholic Church continues to accompany migrants and refugees seeking an opportunity to provide for their families.

The USCCB’s office of Migrant and Refugee Services has also developed a Scriptural Rosary entitled “Unity in Diversity” that includes prayers for migrants and refugees. It can be found online at: http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/documents/Scriptural-Rosary-Eng.pdf.

“So many families are wondering how changes to immigration policy might impact them,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice-president of the USCCB. “We want them to know the Church is with them, offers prayers on their behalf, and is actively monitoring developments at the diocesan, state, and national levels to be an effective advocate on their behalf.”

Here in the Diocese of Providence migrants and refugees from many nations, especially those Central and South American countries whose people have a special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, are planning several ways to share with all faithful the joy that she brings them.

On Sunday, all are welcome to take part in a nearly 500-year-old Latin American tradition of honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe. In a march organized by the Guadalupan Committee of the Diocese of Providence — composed of representatives of many parishes’ Spanish-speaking communities — worshippers will gather at 9 a.m. in front of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, located at 30 Fenner Street, and process two miles to Blessed Sacrament Church, at 239 Regent Avenue.

Sister Lilian Carapia Cruz, HMSP, a member of the committee and Evangelization leader at Blessed Sacrament Parish, said that although temperatures are expected to be in the 30s on Sunday she doesn’t believe that will discourage the devout from practicing their faith by honoring Our Lady as they have for hundreds of years.

“We’re expecting between 500 and 1,000 people to take part,” said Sister Carapia, a native of Mexico City, where there is a large shrine to commemorate the Mother of Jesus, who is known in Spanish as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe or more simply, La Virgen.

Sister Carapia noted that the pilgrimage activities will take place in both Spanish and English. The day’s events will start at 7:30 a.m., when some of the pilgrims will drop off their cars at Blessed Sacrament Church and catch a bus to the cathedral. At 9 a.m., the pilgrims will receive a blessing at the cathedral before they begin their march.

At noon, the pilgrims will join a Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church. After the Mass, they’ll play music, perform traditional dances and eat delicacies made for the occasion.

On Monday, Dec. 12, the feast day, all are welcome to arrive at Blessed Sacrament Church at 5 a.m., where the hardy faithful will wait for the dawn.

Then, in another nod to the time-honored Guadalupe traditions, the gathering will sing the mañanitas, a special “happy birthday” song for the Virgin as the sun rises above the horizon.

Finally, in the evening, the most colorful and musical celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe will take place at the cathedral beginning at 5 p.m., when confessions will be offered, followed by the praying of the rosary at 6 p.m., led by the Spanish Curia of the Legion of Mary.

At 6:30 p.m., there will be a festive musical “Serenata” or serenade to Our Lady with the Mariachi of Veronica Robles of Boston.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin will preside during the 7 p.m. bilingual liturgy, which will be celebrated by Father Jeremy Rodrigues, director of the Office of Worship. Senior Priest Father Raymond Tetrault will serve as the homilist. A number of priests and deacons from across the diocese will also take part in the Mass, which will feature the Diocesan Choir, whose members represent several parishes.

The collection taken will benefit evangelization and media outreach efforts of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry.

Following the Mass, at 8:30 p.m., hot chocolate and ethnic specialties such as tamales and Spanish bread will be offered during a festival in the cathedral hall. All are invited to attend and enjoy an hour of dances from Mexico and other Latin American countries that will be performed by children and youth from the parishes of Blessed Sacrament, St. Patrick’s, St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s.

According to Gregory “Duff” Morton, a member of the diocesan Guadalupe Committee and parishioner at Blessed Sacrament, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a central figure in religious traditions across the Americas. According to Catholic teaching, he said, the Virgin made a miraculous appearance to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, a Native American peasant, in 1531, only a few years after the Spanish invasion of the Aztec Empire.

She spoke to Juan Diego in Nahuatl, his native language, and she had the look of a native woman. The Virgin ordered Juan Diego to tell the Bishop of Mexico City to build her a church.

“When the Bishop doubted Juan Diego’s claim, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to him again,” Morton said. “This time she made flowers bloom in the cold winter ground.”

Juan Diego carried the flowers to the Bishop as proof of the miracle. He wrapped them in his tilma, or cloak, and when he opened up the tilma in front of the Bishop, the flowers tumbled out. The Bishop then discovered that a painting of the Virgin had miraculously appeared on the tilma.

“That painting is today preserved in the Basilica of Holy Mary of Guadalupe in Mexico City, at the site where the Virgin spoke with Juan Diego,” he said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is recognized by the faithful as the patron saint of Mexico, the Philippines and the Americas. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was canonized a saint in 2002. The story of Our Lady is told in the Nican Mophua, a Nahuatl text published in 1649 by the renowned indigenous writer Antonio Valeriano.