CHAMPAIGN – Area Hispanics by the hundreds celebrated a 477-year-old apparition Friday.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Aztec Indian name for the Virgin Mary, was marked with Masses and music, flowers and food at four Roman Catholic churches.
Holy Cross marked the occasion for the first time, attracting about 150 adults and children.
"I think it's fun and sort of international," said Jack Reeder, a sixth-grader at Holy Cross School who was at the church handing out programs before the Mass. "I like the story of Diego and his cloak and the roses."
The story, dating back to Dec. 9, 1531, is about Juan Diego, a poor man who was near what is now Mexico City. Mary appeared to Diego, asking him to visit the bishop to request that a church be built in her honor. The bishop, hesitant to believe Diego, asked for some sort of proof.
Three days later, Diego again saw Mary, who pointed out flowers blooming in the frozen ground. He gathered up the flowers in his cloak, heading back to see the bishop. When the flowers fell to the floor, there was an image of the holy mother imprinted on Diego's cloak.
The cloak still hangs in the basilica in Mexico City.
At Holy Cross, some 20 children carried single, long-stemmed roses from the back of the sanctuary to the altar and the base of a picture of Guadalupe.
The Rev. Stephen Willard celebrated the Mass in English, but a soloist and the congregation of mostly non-Latinos sang part of "I Love You Lord" in Spanish.
Midway through the Mass, Willard blessed baby Jesus figurines that adults and children brought from their home Nativity scenes.
"I just love the Blessed Mother, and any chance I can get to promote her, honor her; and the fact that Guadalupe is the patron saint of unborn children and the Americas," said Tracy Duchinsky, who organized the Holy Cross program.
"I would have liked to have mariachi music, but I didn't know where to find any," she said.
Mariachi bands were booked to play at St. Matthew's Catholic Church and St. Mary Church on Friday night.
Six musicians played at St. Matthew's shortly after 6 p.m., when the sanctuary was half filled with people waiting for the 7 p.m. Mass. Some 700 participants were expected.
Led by the Rev. Adolph Menendez, who directs the Office of Latino Ministry for the Champaign vicariate, the group moved its Guadalupe program out of St. John's Catholic Newman Center, where it regularly worships, because of examination schedules at the University of Illinois.
"We're going to get beans, rice, quesadillas, tamales, all donated by Mexican restaurants in the area," said Blanca Ruiz, who was helping set up the after-Mass party at St. Matthew's.
At St. Mary Church's parish hall, named for Archbishop Oscar Romero, Hispanic men and women were carrying in huge metal pots of a fruit drink with floating apple slices called ponche.
Antonia Paredes brought 280 tamales that took her four hours to make.
Disc jockeys from the Chacharero and Callejero groups set up flashing lights and recorded music equipment.
Next door, in the church, it was standing room only as more than 400 people arrived for a Mass celebrated in Spanish by the Rev. Tom Royer.
Twinkling blue and white lights and artificial flowers surrounded two portraits of Guadalupe. Red paper flowers were tied onto each pillar in the sanctuary with red ribbons.
"We have a wonderful, supportive priest," said Martha Betenia. "We were here singing Mananitas (serenading Mary) from midnight to 1:30 a.m. (early Friday) and he was here."
Holy Family Church in Danville celebrated with a new decoration this year – a volunteer-built hill made out of papier mache to simulate the hill where Diego first saw the Virgin Mary.
Maria Ramirez, one of the organizers, was expecting up to 300 people – some from towns along the Indiana border.
The Rev. Ted Pracz, who is fluent in Spanish, was to celebrate the Mass.
Holy Family parish will continue its celebration Sunday with Mananitas singing at 11:15 A.M., followed by a Mass in Spanish, Aztec Indian dancing, performance of a play, distribution of roses at noon and a potluck meal at Holy Family School.