The glow of candlelight illuminated a darkened St. Vincent de Paul Church in Syracuse Dec. 12 as faithful of many cultures processed into Mass to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The feast day marked the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico in 1531. Long a figure of special devotion for Hispanic Catholics, Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared patroness of the Americas by Bl. Pope John Paul II in 1999. She is also considered patroness of the unborn because she appeared to Juan Diego pregnant with Jesus.
The diocesan Offices of Social Justice Ministry and Respect Life co-sponsored the Mass, which was themed “A Time of Welcome.” The liturgy emphasized the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of all life and the Gospel call to “welcome the stranger.”
Kerri Freed, who recently moved from Kansas to Syracuse to study at Le Moyne College, came with her husband and young son. Celebrations of Our Lady’s feast day are “a pretty big deal” in her hometown, she said, so she was excited to join a celebration in Syracuse. As a pro-life family of Mexican-American heritage, Freed said Our Lady of Guadalupe is important to her and her family.
The liturgy — including the music, the readings and the homily — was celebrated in Spanish; Father James Schultz, parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Church in Cicero, was the principal celebrant.
Father Robert Hyde, pastor of St. Margaret’s Church in Mattydale, offered the homily. He quoted Pope Francis, who spoke about Our Lady of Guadalupe at his general audience at the Vatican Dec. 11: “When Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego, her face was that of a woman of mixed blood, a mestiza, and her garments bore many symbols of the native culture…. When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma [cloak] of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America — the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America — North and South — is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age…. That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.”
A lively family-style dinner, featuring homemade Hispanic dishes, followed the Mass. There, several guests spoke of their great love for Our Lady, of prayers answered and burdens lightened through her intercession, of the maternal comfort she provides.
Martha Tamayo de Vergara, a member of St. Vincent’s Peace and Justice Committee who helped to organize the celebration, said she was happy to see so many people come together to take part, including longtime St. Vincent’s parishioners and individuals originally from Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua. For her, the message of welcome at the Mass was an important one. Vergara immigrated to Syracuse from Colombia in 1980 and has worked as a bilingual social worker for the Syracuse City School District for 30 years, the last 21 at Delaware Academy. She has come to know many faithful immigrant families in the community who work hard in the face of challenges. “Jesus went from place to place, and in some places he was welcome and some places he was not. But he did not stop doing the job. That is what I see in the immigrant,” she said.