By Kristi Anderson
For The Visitor

Crowd gathers at St. John’s to dance, sing and pray in honor of the patroness of the Americas

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Gladys Gutiérrez of St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park presents incense as part of a dance before the Our Lady of Guadalupe statue during the diocesan Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration Dec. 14 at St. John’s Abbey Church. Photos by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

Bells, beads, feathers and shells adorned the colorful costumes of Latino dancers who performed for more than 600 people at a Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 14 at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville.

The sounds of the tinkling costumes rose just above the banging of drums as the dancers led the procession of the iconic statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the front of the church. Children in traditional attire carried roses and placed them before the makeshift shrine. Male dancers wore masks and hats with bright streamers to represent St. Juan Diego.

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The Aguilar-Cervantes family of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Parish in Long Prairie prepares to carry the gifts during the Mass. Photos by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

This religious celebration honors the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian, on Tepeyac Hill in Central Mexico in 1531. She is the patroness of the Americas as well as the unborn and her feast day is Dec. 12.
Groups of participants and attendees arrived by bus, van and carload from parishes as far and near as Long Prairie, Pelican Rapids, Cold Spring, Waite Park and Melrose.

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Benedictine Abbot John Klassen celebrates the Mass at the Abbey Church. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

Initially, Bishop Donald Kettler planned to celebrate the Mass with Benedictine Abbot John Klassen. But the bishop was called away to attend the ordination and installation of his successor in Fairbanks, Alaska, Bishop Chad Zielinksi.
“It was a very moving celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe — lots of dancing, singing and praying together,” Abbot Klassen said. “The celebration is a pivotal, important way for our local church to recognize the growth and gifts of the Latino people in our midst.”

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Yadira Rubio of St. Boniface Parish in Cold Spring gets ready for the procession with the Our Lady of Guadalupe statue. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

After Mass, the festivities continued as the crowd made its way to another part of the St. John’s University campus, Guild Hall, where the dancing continued and a traditional meal of picadillo — a mixture of seasoned rice, beans and tortillas — was served.

The event’s organizers, the Office of Multicultural Ministries for the Diocese of St. Cloud and the Virgen de Guadalupe subcommittee, wanted everyone to experience a feeling of solidarity as well as to learn something about Latino culture. They also wanted the event to convey a message of hope, which Abbot Klassen radiated in his homily.

“The Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is a symbol of a new creation in this new world,” he said. “Juan Diego represents a new way of bringing the Gospel to people who have been overwhelmed by trouble and sorrow.

“Juan Diego, ¿hacia dónde vas? Juan Diego, where are you going?” he continued. “It is a question to each one of us. How are we being called to bring the message of Jesus to our world, to our time? The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe?

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Father Mitchell Bechtold, associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in Melrose, helps serve picadillo, a mixture of seasoned rice, beans and tortillas. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

“It is a message of care and help for people who are suffering,” he concluded. “It is a message for the poor, for those who are cold and hungry, for those who need hope and a message of God’s care for our world. How will I, how will you, respond to her persistent question?”