Our Lady of Guadalupe devotions bring history and faith to life in southwest Detroit

Dancers dressed in traditional Aztec regalia perform during Mananitas, an early morning devotion of song and festivities honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary's appearance to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531, at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in southwest Detroit on Dec. 12. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Traditional singing, dancing part of ancient tradition honoring Blessed Mother's appearance to St. Juan Diego, passed through centuries

DETROIT — Parishioners awoke early in the morning of Dec. 12 to file into Ste. Anne de Detroit to sing to Mary.

Dressed in Aztec apparel and playing traditional instruments from Meso-American culture, parishioners' early-hour devotions were filled with hymns to Our Lady of Guadelupe, the patroness of Mexico, whose apparition to St. Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531, led to the conversion of millions of natives in North, Central and South America.

Across the Archdiocese of Detroit, parishioners celebrated the day with food, dance, song and prayer, beginning on Dec. 11, the vigil of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda celebrated a vigil Mass following Bienvenida, a welcoming song to Mary, the rosary and Cantos y danzas, featuring dancers in Aztec regalia honoring the Blessed Virgin.

Actors portray St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe during a skit performed Dec. 11, the vigil of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The following morning, parishioners arrived at Ste. Anne at 6 a.m. for Mañanitas, a traditional morning celebration of song honoring Mary's apparition to St. Juan Diego, which included the miraculous appearance of her image on his tilma, a garment worn by Aztecs. St. Juan Diego’s tilma depicted the Blessed Mother as an Aztec princess, pregnant with child, standing above the sun and moon — considered deities in the ancient Aztec religion — an image that led to the conversion of millions of souls on the continent.

Devotions to Our Lady of Guadalupe  started in Mexican culture and have come to the United States via immigrants, many of whom have passed the faith down to their children.

During the evening of the feast day, parishioners gathered at Holy Redeemer Parish in southwest Detroit for a procession around the block with a Marian banner and flags of countries from North, Central and South America, recognizing Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of The Americas.

Parishioners prayed the rosary while processing around the block before filing back into the church for a short play featuring children from the parish recreating the story of Juan Diego’s vision of Mary and his journey to the local bishop. According to the story, when St. Juan Diego showed the bishop his tilma, roses fell out and left a miraculous imprint, which can still be seen at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Parishioners hold flags representing countries in North, Central and South America during a procession Dec. 12 at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in southwest Detroit. Our Lady of Guadalupe is recognized as the patroness of the Americas.

After the play, Holy Redeemer parishioners performed dances in traditional attire, accompanied by drums and shakers.

Fr. Dennis Walsh, SOLT, who celebrated Mass for the community, said to this day, the scientific community can’t fully explain the image on St. Juan Diego’s tilma.

“In the last 60 years, they have done a study on her eyes in the image with cameras and microscopes, and they see a triple reflection in the eyes, like in a human’s eyes,” Fr. Walsh, pastor of Holy Redeemer, told Detroit Catholic. “It’s like a presence of a reflection, something they cannot explain. But in her eyes, they see St. Juan Diego, the bishop and 13 figures, a family who she appeared to.”

Fr. Walsh said in his homily that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which incorporates the Gospel reading of Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, is a chance for the faithful to reflect on the times and places where Mary has visited in their lives.

A woman dressed in traditional Aztec clothing plays the drum during a celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 11 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Fr. Walsh said it's almost impossible to overestimate how crucial Our Lady of Guadelupe's appearance was for the conversion of the American continent.

“There are so many aspects, miracles involved with Guadalupe,” Fr. Walsh said. “The language of the Aztecs wasn’t written, so symbols were used to communicate a message, and the message of Guadalupe was an image.”

Fr. Walsh said the image on the tilma contains signs that would have been understood by the natives who saw it, including Mary appearing as a native, how she was wearing her hair, and that she was a virgin, but also pregnant.

“The Aztecs who saw this image would immediately understand the symbolism that this was the mother of God, more so than the Spanish priests could ever convey with words,” Fr. Walsh said.

With celebrations across the city and archdiocese marking the feast day, Fr. Walsh said devotions to Our Lady of Guadalupe are ingrained in Mexican and Mexican-American culture, passed down from generation to generation.

“Celebrations like this are ways to hand down the faith, these popular devotions,” Fr. Walsh said. “The Aztecs saw the tilma and recognized who Mary was; that’s why we have the Aztec dancers here. For the children in the play before Mass, re-enacting the miracle, they are learning their culture, the roots to their faith.”

Photo gallery

To see more photos from the celebrations at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Detroit, visit Detroit Catholic's Facebook page.