The sound of thunderous drums filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as a crowd of tens of thousands cheered and waved flags in excitement. More than 800 Matachines and Aztec performers, dancing to the rhythm and dressed in colorful, traditional costumes, processed onto the field, followed by an honor guard of dozens of Fourth Degree Knights.
Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore processed behind them, carrying a reliquary that contained a small piece of St. Juan Diego’s tilma the garment on which the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted on Dec. 12, 1531.
Archbishop Lori placed the reliquary at the altar and led those assembled in prayer. He asked Mary, “Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church,” to hear the prayers of everyone gathered and present them to her son, “Jesus, our only Savior.” He also asked her to bring about a true culture of life, to intercede for families and to inspire greater devotion.
The Knights of Columbus partnered with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to present the Guadalupe Celebration, which took place Aug. 5. In this way, Our Lady took center stage in the heart of the city once known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles, or “The Village of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels.”
People came from throughout California and beyond for the free event, which featured more than three hours of performances, speakers and prayer celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message of faith, charity and unity. It was the largest Catholic event held at the renowned, open-air stadium since Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass there in 1987.
Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles welcomed all the faithful and thanked the Knights of Columbus and the Institute for Guadalupan Studies in Mexico City for co-sponsoring the event.
Addressing the crowd, the archbishop said that Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only the mother of the people of Mexico, but also the “mother of all the people of the Americas” and “mother of all the living.”
“She came because in her maternal heart she wanted to give her Son to the people of the New World. She came to spread the faith in her divine Son to every man and every woman not only in Mexico, but throughout the world.”
Archbishop Gómez added that Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to call us today. “She is calling us to greater faith, to greater love, to greater hope. She is calling us to dedicate our lives to the loving plan of God.”
In another address, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson reflected on Our Lady’s significance for the mission of the Knights of Columbus and noted that the Order chartered its first council in Mexico Guadalupe Council 1050 in 1905. He also encouraged the audience to practice charity toward all, especially the most vulnerable, including unborn children, people with disabilities and immigrants.
“If Our Lady of Guadalupe is our mother, then we are all brothers and sisters,” said Anderson. “Let us join our hearts together with hers to build a common home for all a true civilization of love.”
Msgr. Eduardo Chávez brought the crowd to its feet with a spirited talk that explained the mystery and meaning of the Guadalupan event. Rector of the Institute for Guadalupan Studies and a canon of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Msgr. Chávez served as postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Juan Diego, who was declared a saint in 2002.
Msgr. Chávez spoke of how Juan Diego represented all humanity when meeting Our Lady on the Mexican hill of Tepeyac in 1531. Knowing his fears, weakness, doubt, and most of all his good heart and faithfulness, the Blessed Mother led Juan Diego on a path of deeper conversion to become a dynamic witness to the Catholic faith. Because of this witness and the miracle at Guadalupe, some 8 million Mexicans were baptized in a few short years.
Today, Msgr. Chávez added, Christians are called to follow in the footsteps of Juan Diego by listening to the Blessed Mother as she leads them to Jesus. They must overcome fears and weaknesses and become faithful witnesses in simple ways through their daily lives, he said.
The Guadalupe Celebration’s program also included a bilingual rosary, with prayers led by clergy and many well-known figures in sports and media, and various musical performances. A multi-act drama of the Guadalupan event, with actors playing Juan Diego and the Blessed Mother, was also performed at intervals throughout the bilingual program.
Held immediately before the 130th Supreme Convention in Anaheim, Calif., the event was the latest in a number of Knights of Columbus-sponsored initiatives in recent years related to Our Lady of Guadalupe and her message.
On a smaller scale, the Order co-sponsored a similar international celebration, the Guadalupe Festival, at an arena in Glendale, Ariz., in 2009.
This year’s event took place amid the Order’s two-year-long Marian Prayer Program, which was launched at the supreme convention one year earlier. Pilgrim images of Our Lady of Guadalupe continue their journey through each jurisdiction, welcoming thousands to special prayer services.
In September, a new chapel to Our Lady of Guadalupe, made possible by a grant from the Order, was dedicated at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The chapel houses the relic of St. Juan Diego’s tilma that was present at the Guadalupe Celebration; it is believed to be the only relic of its kind in the United States.
Still more initiatives are being planned to spread Our Lady’s message and inspire greater faith and devotion.
Together with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Knights of Columbus will co-sponsor an international conference at the Vatican from Dec. 9-12 “under the guidance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, Star of the New Evangelization.” The event will feature numerous bishops and scholars reflecting on the themes of Blessed John Paul II’s 1999 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.
In that document, Blessed John Paul wrote, “America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting-pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestizo face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization. … Through her powerful intercession, the Gospel will penetrate the hearts of the men and women of America and permeate their cultures, transforming them from within.”
The Guadalupe Celebration was a universal gathering of peoples and cultures that deeply stirred the hearts, minds and souls of those in attendance. Through it and related initiatives, the Knights of Columbus invites the faithful to turn to Our Lady of Guadalupe as their mother, model and partner in the new evangelization.
ALTON J. PELOWSKI is the managing editor of Columbia magazine.