It has been a year since Maria Noris, a parishioner of St. John of God in Norwalk, joined a Mexican Matachines dance group at her parish. Since then her life has turned around.The cerebral palsy and autism suffered by her 19-year-old son was taking a toll on her. “I had been so focused on my family and wouldn’t take care of myself,” said the mother of four children while participating in this year’s procession and Mass honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe. When she heard about a retreat sponsored by Mexican Matachines, she decided to attend. It was a breakthrough for the woman who grew up in the Mexican state of Zacatecas watching her uncles and abuelita (grandmother) dance traditional dances and pray the rosary to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe on her feast day, Dec. 12.In gratitude, she joined 27 dancers of the Anawen troupe participating for the first time with hundreds of other Matachines and Aztec dance groups and floats from throughout Southern California Dec. 2 in the 81st annual procession “Mary, Mother of Faith” and Mass.Anawen means humble followers of Mary, Noris explained. “This is what I want to be: Mary’s follower, faithful to Our Lord,” she said. “I am so excited and expecting to receive much more peace in my life and many more blessings!”As has been the tradition since 1931, the groups danced to the tune of drums and chants of “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” and “Viva Cristo Rey!” during the three-mile mid-morning pilgrimage along Cesar Chavez Avenue to East Los Angeles College Stadium. Archbishop José Gomez, this year walked at the end of the procession, preceded by framed images of the Virgin and St. Juan Diego, and accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, priests and nuns from different orders.As the Mass began under drizzly skies, the stadium looked even more colorful with the variety of umbrellas keeping more than 25,000 people protected from the elements. Clearly, the rain was no deterrent to enthusiastic participation.“Your faith inspires me!” Archbishop Gomez told the assembly with a smile as he began his homily. “You are here rain or shine and that tells me about your faith.”Concelebrants included Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Roger Mahony, Auxiliary Bishops Wilkerson, Edward Clark and Alexander Salazar; Msgr. Joseph Brennan, archdiocesan vicar general and moderator of the Curia, and priests from local parishes.Archbishop Gomez urged the large assembly to be good examples for others, “starting at home with our families, with your children, wife and husband.”Then he spoke about the new liturgical season.“Today is the start of Advent and as we all know, it is a season of waiting,” he said. “We are waiting for Christmas! We are waiting for the baby Jesus. We are waiting for the Son of God.”Referring to the Gospel reading where Jesus tells the people of his return, the archbishop encouraged the faithful to “be ready always; ready to meet him at the end of our lives. We have to be prepared, not looking for signs in the sky, but asking ourselves how are we living our lives.”Then he suggested the Advent season is a good time for conversion and for confession to “better our Christian life.”He urged participants to pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe “who intercedes for us and shows us to heal our wounds and how to be more loving toward others.”That’s exactly why Abel Diaz, 19, and his cousin Jose Aladuena, 21, were at the procession, participating for the first time.With his smartphone Diaz took pictures of the floats that he planned to send to his friends with an invitation to join next year’s celebration.“I want to bring all my friends to church and talk to them a little bit of what I know of how to become a better person,” said Diaz, who admitted that three years ago he started disobeying his parents, using drugs, quit school and got caught up in an unhealthy social environment that landed him in a juvenile hall.There he began attending the Catholic liturgies and one day had a “spiritual awakening.” Since then his life has changed and, “although it is not perfect,” he said, “I see life in a different way.”Also excited to be there was Angelica Figueroa, principal of Resurrection School in East L.A.“This is very personal to me,” she said. Since she was hired as the school’s principal 13 years ago, students and parents have made of the procession their tradition, participating with a float and dancers. Aside from showing her own gratitude, she said the event offered an opportunity to pray for the community.“The Blessed Mother is an inspiration of faith and commitment,” she said, “and we also have an opportunity to promote Catholic education (“Catholic education is an advantage for life,” said a banner on the float), which is so important to me.”Figueroa said her struggling immigrant parents instilled in her the idea that the only way to get out of the circle of poverty is education. She went on to earn a graduate degree in education.The event at the stadium ended with a musical program featuring Mexican and local singers, including Aries, Mexico’s 2012 Palma de Oro Award winner. The image of the Virgin that remained at the south end of the stadium was venerated by the faithful following the Mass.For more photos, please see Page 8.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1207/guadalupe/{/gallery}