Hispanic Catholics celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, heritage in Peoria

Dec 13, 2015

Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Hundreds of parishioners flocked to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria Saturday for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

The celebration with Mexican origins honors Jesus’ mother Mary. The day-long festivities at St. Mary's Cathedral gave attendees a taste of home.  

The cavernous cathedral was flooded with color -- women wore ribbons threaded in their braids, and a heap of fresh flowers lay below a statue of Mary.

The day of celebration began at 4:30 am, before many in the Hispanic community had to leave for work. The chaplain  says a line stretched out the front doors, as parishioners sang manañitas, or traditional Mexican birthday songs, to the blessed mother. 

“Basically what we did is bring some of the old traditions from Mexico, to keep the community together. And other than that, it’s just like a party time,” organizer Herminio Almaraz said. 

But, Almaraz says, it’s not quite the same being thousands of miles away from home and family.

Many first and second generation Mexicans make the drive from Peoria to Mexico to celebrate el Dia de la Virgen, as it leads up the the Christmas holidays. 

Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Mari Lopez piled her three kids into a minivan and drove 29 hours to Guadalajara last year:

“Más que nada su cultura. Que no pierden su cultura, que no pierden su idioma, su raíces.”

[Cass Herrington translates: She says it’s important so her kids don’t lose their culture, their language, their roots.”]

Almaraz says life here in the US is good, they have better jobs, schools and opportunities. But he says this day is a chance to slow down, be with family and reconnect with their heritage. 

Juan Marin attended the ceremonies. Marin says in the Mexican tradition, the Virgin Mary is treated like their own mother:       

“Sometimes when you are a kid, and you get in trouble, you prefer to go to your mom, than to go to your dad because your mom is a little more understanding," Marin said. "Our Lady never keeps anything for herself, she is always praying for us.”

Rev. Thomas Gibson heads Hispanic Ministries at the parish. Gibson says for many of his parishioners, Guadalupe is "a window" to their Catholic faith. 

"There's a strong sense of identity associated with her, and that's especially meaningful for someone who's left their home country," Gibson said. 

The Lady of Guadalupe celebration continued on through evening with choral performances, folk dances, dinner and a mass attended by Bishop Daniel Jenky.  

Almaraz says between 500 and 600 parishioners attend the cathedral's Spanish services weekly.  

 The annual holiday links Catholicism in Mexico and native Aztec culture.