CONWAY—The Hispanic community of St. James Church gathered at the family life center Dec. 11 to celebrate the vigil of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Standing-room-only crowds participated in the “Rosario y Peregrinacion” a rosary and pilgrimage, and a midnight Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.
Bishop Guglielmone accompanied the crowds of worshipers praying the rosary as they paraded along the streets surrounding the church prior to Mass. They followed a truck decorated with flowers carrying a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Vanessa Molena, one of the event’s coordinators, said the “Rosario y Peregrinacion” is a tradition brought to Conway from Mexico.
Members of the Hispanic community from Church of the Resurrection Mission in Loris ran approximately 20 miles carrying a lighted torch to St. James. The people received the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe into their midst just prior to the midnight Mass.
“Mary is the mother of Jesus and she is very important to our beliefs,” Molena said. “It is a special time for us to celebrate her assistance and that she gave us Jesus. Our Lady is an inspiration of hope to us.”
The Conway festival has taken place since 1995. It was started by the Montoy and Velazquez families in cooperation with St. James Church to minister to the growing Hispanic community. The first event was attended by less than 100 people and more than 1,000 were expected this year.
The family life center was the hub of the activity, which also included traditional Mexican music and a play about St. Juan Diego performed by parish youth.
“Most of the Hispanics in the area are from Mexico,” said Lizzi Matamoros, a festival coordinator. “This celebration is very dear to their hearts. It is a way for them to celebrate their faith and reminds them what it means to be Catholic.”
A volunteer committee raises money and organizes the event each year. One popular fundraiser includes selling traditional food. The committee purchases some of the flowers, but many attendees also donate them. Yanet “Dora” Montoy said there were about 1,200-1,500 flowers in all.
“It is very special to me, better than Christmas,” she said. “It makes me appreciate my mother. [Mary is] the mother of Jesus. If you need something all you have to do is ask her and she will go to her son, Jesus. What child would deny their mother?”
The celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe started on Dec. 6 and ended Dec. 13 at the 8:45 a.m. Mass. Other events included the sacrament of reconciliation and talks by Father Raul Perez from the Diocese of Barahona in the Dominican Republic.
Father Perez came to the United States in 1991 and has worked with migrant ministry in Georgia and with Food for the Poor. He is a retired priest but continues to serve in Hispanic ministry.
Father Frederick LaBrecque, pastor of St. James and Church of the Resurrection, accompanied the group carrying the torch from Loris to Conway.
“It has a tremendous impact on our people,” he said. “It’s certainly something ingrained in the very being of Mexican people … It’s contagious even if you don’t understand Spanish, but more so if you do. I look forward to it personally.”