By WALDO ALVARADO – Pastoral Council Member at St. Peter the Apostle Church
How many times have you seen Bishop Alfred Schlert celebrate Mass in Spanish? Can you imagine the feeling of singing the Mass hymns with a live mariachi band? What if you could attend Mass at a huge sporting arena, surrounded by thousands of people who came from nations around the world? Would you wake up at 4:30 in the morning to sing Las Mañanitas to the Mother of God?
Thousands of faithful Catholics shared this exact experience Dec 12 at the Santander Arena in Reading.
With the theme “Am I not here, I, who am your mother?” parishioners from every Spanish-speaking nation of the Americas came together to honor Mary, the mother of God, and our Lady of Guadalupe. Led by Monsignor Thomas Orsulak and the Guadalupano Committee of Reading, the event was a joyous and spiritual festivity for members of the following local churches: St. Margaret, St. Joseph, St. Paul and St. Peter the Apostle.
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico and Empress of America, commemorates the first apparition of the Virgin Mary in the American continent. There were five apparitions of Mary that took place on Mount Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1531. The most prominent emblem of this wonderful series of events is the tilma or cloak of Juan Diego (main visionary), where the image of Our Lady was engraved.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is undoubtedly the most popular and deep-rooted devotion in the hearts, minds and identities of Mexican Catholics. More than 20 million pilgrims visit her basilica annually in Mexico City. In 1895 Pope Leo XIII recognized her apparition and canonically crowned her image. In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego, the first Amerindian to enjoy this great privilege.
In Reading the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe extended over two weeks in December. A Novena was celebrated in two parishes: St. Margaret (Dec. 4-7) and St. Joseph (Dec 8-11).
For the second year in a row, the Novena’s main preacher was Father Efraín Nieves, Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, who came directly from Mexico.
The day of festivities started with the “Mañanitas” (traditional Mexican birthday song performed by a mariachi band) at 4:30 a.m., followed by Mass. The climax was the solemn Mass celebrated by Bishop Alfred Schlert, and concelebrated by seven priests and assisted by four permanent deacons.
After Mass there was a fiesta with traditional folklore dancers, Mexican food and live music. All dancers wore traditional Mexican outfits, including the Mexican Charra (broad-brimmed hat). The celebration was an all-day event that took place at the Santander Arena in downtown Reading.
Josefina Adame, has been a member of the Guadalupano Committee for 19 years and committee president for 15 years, was delighted with the level of participation and enthusiasm from families and school-aged children in this celebration.
“Monsignor Orsulak is a very welcoming and inviting pastor, he wanted to have the participation of every parish in this celebration as a way to bring together the entire catholic community of Reading,” she said.
Monsignor Orsulak, coordinator of the Berks-Carbon-Schuylkill Hispanic Ministry, thanked everyone involved in the planning and execution of this great feast. He gave special thanks to the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Sister Martha Muñoz, a leading member of the Guadalupano committee, stated that this feast is very important “to glorify the Lord and for the spiritual growth of the ecclesial community.”
Bishop Schlert also thanked everybody for their participation. Using his “almost perfect” Spanish, he said, “I think that tonight, Maria can teach you how to open your hearts fully to Christ, her son – and like Maria, you all can take Christ to everyone through your love and service to others.”