By Luis Sinco
In an annual ritual that draws thousands of people, Catholic faithful of Mexican and Central American descent swarmed La Placita Church and nearby Olvera Street Plaza to celebrate Dia De La Virgen De Guadalupe.
The crowded and colorful festivities are held in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe — the universal symbol for Mexican Catholics — who is said to have appeared in a vision before Mexican peasant Juan Diego about 500 years ago. La Placita celebrations included unbroken strings of worship services as well as offerings of flowers and votive candles that illuminated the darkness outside the church and kept the throngs of people coming throughout the long, chilly night.
According to popular Mexican lore, Juan Diego saw the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill in what now is Mexico City, on Dec. 9, 1531. The Virgin is said to have told him to ask the bishop to build a church on the hill. However, the skeptical bishop instructed the peasant to provide proof of the encounter, and Diego reportedly saw the Virgin again Dec. 12, at a spot on the hill marked by roses and where only cacti had previously grown. The Virgin arranged the flowers inside the peasant’s cloak and when he opened the garment before the bishop, the flowers fell to the floor, revealing on the fabric the now iconic image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
For the faithful gathered at La Placita, the Virgin seemed to be as real as she is mythic — and they celebrated as fervently as Catholics south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Perhaps more than anything, the day brought a sense of comfort and home to many seeking some sense of familiarity and cultural confirmation ahead of the year-end holidays. Celebrations at the historic church continue through the weekend.