By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
A smile brightened Elisa Gutierrez’s face as she talked about what Our Lady of Guadalupe means to her.
“She’s the mother of God. She’s a source of infinite happiness. Just talking about her brings joy to my heart,” said Gutierrez, a native of Michoacan, Mexico.
She was one of a few dozen Hispanic Catholics who turned out for an early morning celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day Dec. 12 at St. Edward Church in Jeffersontown.
The celebration started at 5 a.m. with Mañanitas, a traditional serenade, followed by Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. The liturgy was a commemoration of the first apparition of Mother Mary to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill near what is now Mexico City on Dec. 9, 1531.
The Mass at St. Edward was one of two celebrated by Archbishop Kurtz that day. The second took place at St. Helen Church in Glasgow, Ky.
Ten other parishes across the archdiocese held Mañanitas and Masses in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as The Virgin of Guadalupe, Dec. 12.
According to the website Catholic Online, when she appeared to Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe asked the humble indigenous man to petition the bishop to build a church in her honor. She wanted to have a place where she could hear the prayers of and heal the suffering of the Mexican people.
Hundreds of years later, the devotion of generations of Mexicans to the Virgin, the patroness of Mexico, still burns brightly. It was evident at this celebration at St. Edward, where devoted families placed flowers and knelt to pray in front of Our Lady’s image.
Gutierrez attended the celebration with her mother, Raquel Barajas, who taught Gutierrez to love the Virgin of Guadalupe. The women said it’s a family tradition.
“I grew up believing and that’s the example I set for my children,” said Barajas, who emigrated to the United States about 25 years ago. Both women said that continuing the tradition of celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe in the U.S. is a privilege.
Tita Velez, a member of St. Rita Church who attended the celebration, said she felt the same way. Velez said her devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe has remained strong, though she left her native Puebla, Mexico, for Louisville 16 years ago.
“Celebrating here is a continuation of a beautiful tradition of honoring our mother and sharing the faith with our children born in the U.S.,” she said.
Velez said she believes her family has a very special connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe. She said family lore holds that in 1844 one of her ancestors found a rock while he was working in a field. A dream led him to break open the rock to discover an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside.
Her family considers this a miracle, she said, and the rock was passed down from generation to generation as their faith deepened.
“When I was little girl my grandmother used to have me kneel and pray the rosary in front of the rock,” said Velez, as she showed a picture of the weathered relic to a reporter. Today, Velez said, her two young sons are discovering Mary through the rosary prayer group for children called “Armada Blanca” (the White Army).
During his homily — which was given in Spanish — Archbishop Kurtz told those who’d gathered that the church, like Mary is their mother, inviting them to find solace from what troubles them, be it family problems or their legal status in this country.
Our Lady assured St. Juan Diego that God would be with him in his need, said the archbishop.
“Through her apparition she invited Juan Diego to have a profound faith in Jesus and the church,” said Archbishop Kurtz.
He also told his listeners that the Virgin of Guadalupe wants them to be instruments of peace and love.
“Christ and his mother will give us the strength needed to have peace,” said the archbishop.