Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah
WEST VALLEY CITY — Hundreds gathered early Monday morning to worship Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican tradition that every year grows in popularity across the country, including the Wasatch Front.
On Dec. 12 of each year, Catholics across the Americas celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The faithful believe that on this day in 1531, a dark-skinned Virgin appeared to the recently converted indigenous Mexican peasant, Juan Diego, while he was walking on a hill in the Tepeyac desert near Mexico City.
According to Roman Catholic tradition, she asked him to build a church in the same spot where they were standing.
When Juan Diego went to the local bishop, the priest asked him for proof of the vision. He went back later and saw the lady again. She instructed Juan Diego to go to the top of a mountain where he found Castilian roses that could not possibly bloom during wintertime. Juan Diego cut the roses, placed them in his clothes and returned to the bishop; once there an imprint of the Virgin Mary appeared on his cloak from the residue of the soil and the roses.
That is the miracle that was being remembered and celebrated at 4 a.m. last Monday at the Catholic Church Saints Peter and Paul in West Valley City. The sanctuary was full of people, with celebrants spilling out into the corridors and the rooms adjacent to the church, with families and believers of a tradition that has brought people together for 480 years.
The attendees, mostly of Mexican origin, listened to mariachi, sang traditional hymns to the "Empress of Latin America" with a live band, and filled the Catholic church with loud applause.
"One of the most beautiful gifts that the Virgin left us was her image with her bronze face, that now is reflected in the face of every one of you," said Carlos Leyva, one of the speakers at the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
"Everyone here has a good memory to share with the Virgin of Guadalupe," said Carlos Cortez, another speaker at the event. "As migrants far away from our country and our families, we look to her and pray to her because she is always with us on our journey."
Despite the frigid morning temperatures, Maria Gonzalez dressed her daughters, Lesly and Arianna, in typical Mexican dresses to take them to the altar of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
"It's only once in a year, so it's worth it," said the enthusiastic mother.
Like her, Sabina and Ismael Vargas, got up at 3 a.m. with their 1-year-old grandson, Damian Ronaldo. Sabina dressed him like Juan Diego, the first Native American saint, with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on his shirt and a mustache drawn on his face.
"We have been faithful to the Virgin of Guadalupe since as far back as we can remember," said the proud grandmother who was keeping a promise that she had made to the Virgin by taking her grandson to the celebration. Sabina and her husband, originally from the Mexican state of Hidalgo, were raised in a Catholic environment that was particularly devoted to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
She even remembers that on least two occasions she walked for two nights to go on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe, the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City and the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world.
Recently, Sabina, a Taylorsville resident, welcomed her fifth grandchild, the first boy in the family. Within a few months, the child began to have health complications.
"They told us he could get bronchitis and we were scared because he was very young," she said. "Then I prayed to the Virgin and I promised her that if she could help us with my child I would bring him to the church and she gave us the miracle, because Damian didn't get sick."
And so she was there Monday to fulfill her promise and to celebrate with so many others the miracles of Our Lady of Guadalupe.