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Houston’s Annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Draws Thousands in Celebration

December 12 holds special significance for Catholics with Mexican heritage, as millions worldwide commemorate the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Guadalupe or Virgen de Guadalupe. This day is believed to mark the 492nd anniversary of her apparition in 1531.

According to historical accounts, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous Aztec peasant who had converted to Christianity, on December 9 and again on December 12, 1531, in present-day Mexico. During the first sighting, she requested the construction of a shrine on Tepeyac Hill, now located in a suburb of Mexico City. Juan Diego relayed this to Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga, who requested a sign before approving the church’s construction.

In a second appearance, Mary instructed Juan Diego to collect roses, a rare sight in winter. When Juan Diego presented the roses to the archbishop, the cloak he opened revealed the image of Mary, which became a national symbol for Mexico. Juan Diego was canonized as a saint in 2002 by Saint John Paul II.

Traditionally, many undertake a pilgrimage to Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. Pilgrims often sing Happy Birthday at midnight and pray to the Virgin for help, miracles, and strength, with celebrations and songs accompanying the journey.

The day holds deep personal meaning for believers, who engage in prayer, petitioning, and seeking miracles. One homemaker, Peña Montaño, shared her emotional journey, praying for her son’s release after being detained for crossing the U.S. border illegally.

Houston’s Annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Draws Thousands in Celebration

Houston, TX – Marciela Hernandez’s faith was put to the ultimate test when doctors informed her that her newborn daughter faced imminent death. Turning to the Virgin of Guadalupe in prayer, the Catholic mother, who migrated from the central Mexican state of Guanajuato to Houston two decades ago, made a heartfelt promise to honor Mexico’s patron saint annually if her child recovered.

This vow brought Hernandez and her family to the midnight Mass in the outdoor plaza of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on December 12. Braving the cold morning, they joined thousands of Mexican Catholics on Navigation Boulevard in the East End neighborhood to partake in the annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Recognized as Houston’s “mother church of Mexican and Hispanic Catholics,” Our Lady of Guadalupe Church anticipated a turnout of over 20,000 people for both Spanish- and English-speaking Mass on Monday and Tuesday, according to Elizabeth Torres, the parish’s business manager overseeing the feast’s events.

In a city where nearly 45 percent of the population is Hispanic, predominantly Mexican, according to Census figures, the significance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Mexican identity resonates deeply among Catholics. They gathered to sing the traditional Mexican feast song “Las Mañanitas” to commemorate what they believe was the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an Indigenous man named Juan Diego in 1531.

Filiberto Salazar, 70, expressed pride in his family for attending the celebration, stating, “It’s important for them to remember the traditions of their family.”

According to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Juan Diego’s encounter with the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531 unfolded as he walked on a hilltop in what is now Mexico City. The Virgin, appearing as a brown-skinned woman bathed in light, spoke to him in his indigenous tongue and instructed him to build a church for her son, Jesus Christ. Despite initial skepticism from the local bishop, the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe was eventually established, and millions of Catholics make pilgrimages to the basilica each December.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Houston is among several Catholic churches hosting annual feasts in honor of the Virgin. Although the church has experienced a decline in registered parishioners, now at 600 compared to 2,000 before the pandemic, many still consider it the primary location for the feast, even as some attend Mass online.

Elizabeth Torres acknowledged the church’s generational significance, stating, “It’s a generational church. Quite a few families have attended for 50 years, and others who moved to Houston in the last few years are starting to come. Some have moved further away, but they always come back to the church.”

The influence of the Virgin of Guadalupe extends beyond the church’s walls, with her image adorning homes, gas station shrines, and even clothing and tattoos throughout Houston.

Before and after the midnight Mass on December 12, priests offered blessings to the devout gathered before a painting of the Virgin, as well as to those outside in front of the spotlighted statue adorned with flowers. Attendees purchased blankets, ponchos, hot chocolate, enchiladas, and champurrado, a Mexican drink, thickened with corn and flavored with cream and chocolate, from vendors.

Marcelo Rodriguez, a 24-year-old restaurant worker who moved from Guanajuato to Houston, articulated the communal significance of the traditional Mass, stating, “Everyone is here for a reason. It’s helpful to believe in something as strong and beautiful as the Virgin.”