Thousands flocked to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles the afternoon of Aug. 29 for a grand celebration — featuring Aztec and Chinelo dancers adorned in colorful intricate regalia, Knights of Columbus and other Catholic fraternal organizations, as well as Angelenos of all ages — in observance of the 234th birthday of the City of Los Angeles, originally christened El Pueblo de Nuestra Se√±ora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porci√∫ncula.

Sponsored by the Queen of Angels Foundation, an association of lay Catholics dedicated to fostering devotion to Mary, the fifth-annual Marian celebration began with a votive Mass in the Cathedral, with Archbishop José H. Gomez presiding.

“As we gather today, it is beautiful to reflect on the beginnings of our city,” said the archbishop during his homily regarding the origins of Los Angeles, which had 44 original settlers —  22 adults and 22 children — and was officially founded on Sept. 4, 1781. “We celebrate the birth of our great city of Los Angeles, and also … our city’s spiritual mother and patroness, Our Lady the Queen of the Angels.”

Archbishop Gomez noted that this year’s anniversary celebration falls just weeks before the historic upcoming U.S. visit of Pope Francis, who will canonize Blessed Junípero Serra, “one of the great missionaries, who is associated with naming this city.” He encouraged everyone present to embrace this special moment in history as an ideal opportunity to “rededicate ourselves to our mission as disciples.”

“God is calling each one of us to carry Jesus into the world and to share his love,” he said. “It was Father Serra’s mission and it is our mission.”

The Mass was followed by a gathering on the cathedral plaza of the diverse participants from numerous parishes and groups, including the Catholic Daughters of America, Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and others, in preparation for the yearly procession through Downtown Los Angeles.  

“We come out to this procession every year; it’s wonderful,” said Theresa Pettiford, a parishioner of St. Brigid Church, Los Angeles, and a Lady of St. Peter Claver, the oldest and largest predominantly African American Catholic lay organization in the country. “It’s such a blessing to be here; it is very meaningful as a Catholic, because we celebrate Mary as well as the birth of our city. Hopefully we can get more and more people to come down to participate every year.”

Led by a flower-adorned float with a nearly life-size statue of Our Lady of the Angels and baby Jesus, the group processed from the cathedral plaza onto the streets of Downtown L.A., accompanied by the joyful noise of dozens of musicians, drummers and dancers. The resplendent procession concluded at Our Lady Queen of Angels “La Placita” Church — located near the historic Olvera Street marketplace — with a blessing by the archbishop, followed by a reception.

According to 78-year-old Alberta Guerrero, a long-time parishioner and active volunteer at La Placita Church, on the morning of the celebration she considered staying home, due to her myriad physical aches and pains. But this petite, faith-filled dynamo said she found a boost of energy and motivation in her “santa fe” (divine faith), she explained to The Tidings at the start of the half-mile trek.

“I suddenly stood up and just said, ‘I want to go,’” she recalled. Immediately afterward, she ran into a friend who offered to accompany her. “My faith is very strong; it’s like medicine for my spirit and body. It gets me going and heals me.”

A beaming Guerrero described this year’s anniversary Mass and Grand Marian procession as “very lovely, very beautiful,” and a “very precious” experience.

“I give thanks to God that He still allows me to be here, praising his name every day,” she said.