The devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe doesn’t have a schedule.

Well before the Mass in her honor, which began at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, more than 40 young people, along with Msgr. John Moretta, pastor of Resurrection Church in Los Angeles, and other organizers were already in the East Los Angeles College Stadium at 6 a.m. to decorate, test the sound and practice a play.

Before Mass, the youth group “Champions of Faith,” from Resurrection Church, would demonstrate a modern apparition of the Virgin Mother before a group of immigrants in Los Angeles.

On this warm morning, everything had to come out perfectly for the celebration that has continued for 84 consecutive years. Organizers have been united in prayer, music and dance in devotion to the “Empress of the Americas,” a symbol of faith, unity and mercy.

“This great celebration for Guadalupanos continues a tradition inherited from the Cristeros, a group of Catholics that suffered persecution in Mexico and had to flee to Los Angeles. Here, they started this procession and Mass in honor of the Mother of God,” said Msgr. Moretta, leader of Guadalupanos Unidos and Guadalupe Comité 15 of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. These groups organize this great annual homage; the theme for 2015 was “Mary, Mother of Mercy.”

Vendors sold food and Our Lady of Guadalupe devotionals around the stadium. The Poor Clare Capuchin sisters, who arrived from Mexico City to celebrate the Guadalupana, offered crafts and typical Mexican foods, like gorditas, chorriadas and chiles in vinegar that they made themselves. Proceeds from the food sales will help the sisters pay for medicine, food and tariffs, according to Sister Maria.

Meanwhile, a mile away, in the heart of East Los Angeles, many prepared for the procession, the oldest of its kind in Los Angeles. Dozens of floats took their places on Ford Street, near the 710 Freeway, getting ready for the procession to begin.

An expression of faith

The pre-Masss procession began at 11 a.m., but as early as the previous afternoon floats had already lined up to ensure a spot near the head of the long procession. Many drivers spent the night there.

The floats demonstrated the beauty of Marian devotion. Faithful from more than 30 parishes did their best to reflect their love for “La Morenita.” With luck, perhaps, they might even take home one of three prizes from Sprint to use at the church.

In the end, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish won first place, Our Lady of Talpa won second, while St. Phillip won third.

“I arrived at 10 p.m. Saturday and I stayed here. The Virgin always helps us, how would she not be present?” said Moisés Fonseca of Our Lady of Talpa, who has participated in the procession for the last 15 years.

Nearby, the “Guadalupanos de María Auxiliadora” float from St. Odilia in Lincoln Heights, decorated by the children in religious education classes and their parents, passed by.

“We began with 20 of us four years ago, and now we have 120 participating in the event,” said Alex Coronado, a proud catechist. He and fellow catechist Claudia Rivas began participating last year.

“We’re from a neighborhood that has a lot violence. This takes our children out of the streets and unites us in faith,” he said. “Our focus is on what it means to be ‘Guadalupano’ or ‘Guadalupana,’ to be devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, because she brings a message of peace before any conflict.”

Shortly before 11 a.m., at the intersection of Ford Street and César Chávez Avenue, children and adults had already judiciously prepared to process through matachin dancers, musical groups, Boy Scouts, students from Catholic Schools, riders on horseback and Knights of Columbus, who gave a particular solemnity to the myriad of color at the procession.

Archbishop José H. Gomez, Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell and other religious leaders accompaned the Catholic community from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Before them, four men carried the missionary image, a replica of the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has traveled to more than 20 parishes and some prisons in Southern California since October.

Dancers timed their steps to the beating of drums, including groups from St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Lucy and the Aztec dancers from Our Lady of Loretto, matchines from St. Matthew in Huntington Park, Danza San Alfonso from Mary, Help of Christians, Danza Guadalupana from Oxnard and matachines from Sacred Heart. 

A great Marian sanctuary

The procession ended in East Los Angeles College Stadium in Monterey Park, where the faithful who weren’t able to make the procession waited in the stands.

Singing “La Guadalupana,” choirs from churches and the public welcomed the procession, the dancers and the music groups. The music group Banda Nueva Estrella arrived with Archbishop Gomez while some spectators waved Mexican flags before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, along with priests and deacons, awaited the procession. Franciscan Father Armando López delivered the first comments, thanking “our Blessed Mother for her presence among us and for covering us in her mantle.” He prayed that this stadium would become a “ great Marian sanctuary” to honor her.

When the missionary image was carried in, white doves were released. After “Las Ma√±anitas” was sung to the Virgin Mother, religious leaders took their places and Archbishop Gomez began the Mass.

“We come together to honor the Blessed Virgin, and this year we honor her as ‘Mother of Mercy,’” he said in his homily. “We come to ask her for our brothers and sisters in San Bernardino. We pray for the families of the victims and for the healing of the wounded. We as the Virgin Mother for the conversion of those hearts that are consumed with hatred. We renew our call for peace in the world, in our society and in our family.”

Various mariachi groups organized the music for the Mass, preforming songs such as “Buenos Días, Paloma Blanca,” (“Good Morning, White Dove”) and “La Guadalupana” during Communion.

“During this Year of Mercy let’s walk closer to God in a path of coming and going, receiving his mercy and sharing his mercy for our neighbor,” the archbishop added, noting that Pope Francis chose Dec. 8 —the Immaculate Conception — as the start of the Year of Mercy because the Virgin Mary “is the Mother of Mercy.”

He explained that Advent is a moment “to return home on God’s path, which is a path of mercy and forgiveness.”

“God wants every one of us to change and to have a conversion. We have to be more understanding of each other … to learn to forgive. Let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to guide us to find Jesus in our hearts.”

At the end of Mass, the archbishop exclaimed, “¬°Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! ¬°Que viva San Juan Diego! ¬°Que Viva San Junípero Serra! ¬°Que via el Papa Francisco!”