Our Lady of Guadalupe pays homage to miraculous appearance in Mexico

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was honored in parishes across the state, with everything from liturgies and processions to torchlight runs and traditional meals.

The feast of Guadalupe falls on Dec. 12 and commemorates the appearance of Mary to Juan Diego, a young Aztec weaver, in 1531. The apparition took place on Tepayac Hill near Mexico City. Over the centuries, devotion has skyrocketed around the event and as a result, Our Lady of Guadalupe is now the patroness of both Mexico and the Americas.

Tradition says that the Blessed Mother instructed Juan Diego to build a church on the spot of her appearance. He went to the local archbishop, who initially denied the request, and then Mary appeared two more times. The bishop demanded proof of the appearance, so Juan Diego gathered roses from the hillside where Mary appeared and wrapped them in his tilma, a traditional cloak. When he opened the tilma before the bishop, roses tumbled out and an image of Mary had been imprinted on the inside. Today that tilma is still on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe  in Mexico City. The feast day is one of the biggest annual celebrations on the Church calendar in Mexico and also among Mexican Americans.

Celebrations begin the weekend before the feast and continue through Dec. 12. At some parishes, the celebrations and preparations begin weeks before with special novenas and prayers.

One of the most elaborate rituals leading up to the feast took place at St. Ernest Mission in the rural town of Pageland in Chesterfield County.

Beginning on Nov. 6, families who attend St. Ernest took the mission’s statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe into their homes for one night each. They placed it on elaborately decorated home altars, and each evening at 7 p.m. others from the community visited to pray the rosary, read the day’s Gospel, pray and share food together.

Deacon Gus Salazar, who serves at St. Ernest, said the home prayer meetings were part of a Mexican tradition of praying 46 rosaries before the Virgin’s feast day, one for each star depicted on her mantle.

“The idea of the event was not only to prepare for the feast, but gather people from the community and help them learn about Our Lady,” Deacon Salazar said. “Some of the people who volunteered to host the statue have not been attending church regularly so it was a chance to welcome them back. It is a wonderful tradition that can also be a tool for evangelization.”

One of the largest annual celebrations of the feast day took place Dec. 11 at St. James Church in Conway. Several dozen sprinters took part in an annual torch run in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It started at the Church of the Resurrection in Loris, threaded along rural roads, and ended up at St. James.

Afterward, more than 1,900 people attended a liturgy, a musical celebration and a drama that depicted the apparition.

At St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, hundreds of people processed through the streets of downtown. Men from the church carried a large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a band played traditional hymns in Spanish, and people marched along singing, praying and carrying statues and banners depicting images of the apparition.

Following the procession, the parish held a large celebration with traditional food, music and dancing in the social hall — a practice common at nearly every church that celebrates the feast.

Miscellany/Keith Jacobs: A traditional dance is enacted for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach.