The faithful of all ages — including toddlers dressed as pint-sized replicas of St. Juan Diego — gathered together under a cold, starry sky in the plaza of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on the evening of Dec. 11 to watch Aztec dancers in feathered regalia launch this year’s feast day celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.“My devotion to Nuestra Se√±ora (Our Lady) is great and we wanted to come to the Cathedral tonight to celebrate her,” said event attendee Irma Padilla, accompanied by family members. “This feast day celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe is very important to me.”So important that Padilla said she would also be attending an early morning Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe at her home parish, St. Cecilia in South Los Angeles. It’s a sentiment — and devotion — that seemed to be shared by the thousands who filled the plaza and cathedral.Following the Aztec dance tribute in the plaza, the festivities continued inside the cathedral. Participants filled the pews for the 10 p.m. concert by the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, which was accompanied by the Cathedral Spanish Choir. The groups jointly performed special orchestrations of traditional hymns to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The musical presentation continued with renowned Mexican singer-actress Graciela Beltrán, teenage singing star Rubén Sandoval, noted mariachi singer Jacky Ibarra, and Cathedral soloists Msgr. Joseph Brennan, Anna Betancourt and Dalia Rodriguez. The festivities concluded with a midnight Mass celebrated by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez.“Now that we are in the year of faith (Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013) — a year in which, with the help of God, we will renew our faith, especially in the missionary sense — each one of us should strive to be more like St. Juan Diego, like Guadalupan missionaries,” said Archbishop Gomez during his welcoming remarks. “Let us always have faith in the love and protection of our blessed Mother of Guadalupe, who is the mother of God and the mother of us all.” For Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit Sister Alicia Lopez, the feast day has particular significance because her religious community is named in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.“We were founded under her care and our name says everything. We follow her way to evangelize and we really want to be close to the people we reach. It’s a great challenge for us,” Sister Lopez told The Tidings. She said it was exciting to be on hand for the cathedral event and witness the melding of spiritual and cultural expressions united in celebration. Guadalupe Gonzalez, who attends St. John Baptist de la Salle Church in Granada Hills, is also a namesake of la virgencita (the little virgin), a name inspired by her parents’ faith.“My dad always had so much faith in la virgencita … and I came here tonight for him,” said Gonzalez, a retired lawyer. Her late father, who died of lung cancer three years ago, used to watch the feast day celebration televised live from Mexico City every year.“So I am here for him — and because I am Guadalupe, too,” she said through bittersweet tears. “He would have loved this celebration. It has been a very emotional experience for me.”Emotional, she added, but also uplifting and an affirmation of her faith, which seems to run in the family. Her sister Yolanda Gonzalez is one of 11 Los Angeles artists currently being showcased in a special art exhibit at the cathedral entitled “Our Lady’s Messenger/El Mensajero de la Virgen,” featuring artwork honoring St. Juan Diego.The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe — named “Mother of the Americas” by the late Pope John Paul II in 1999 — commemorates the miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico in December of 1531, when she left her likeness on his tilma (cloak). The cloak with the revered image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has survived for nearly 500 years, and is housed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is home to the only relic of the tilma in the United States. In 1941, the Archbishop of Mexico City gifted the relic to Los Angeles Archbishop John Cantwell, who had led a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Given the natural agave fibers the tilma is made of, experts consider it miraculous that both the relic and the rest of the original cloak have survived for almost five centuries. This year marks the first time the Cathedral has hosted a Guadalupe celebration on the eve of her feast day. In his welcoming remarks, Archbishop Gomez noted that the change was due, in part, to the new Cathedral chapel that was created to display the precious relic of the tilma.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1221/guadalupe/{/gallery}