There was still an hour left before the procession to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe began Dec. 4 in East Los Angeles. Still, Elsie Romera took her place above the float representing St. Mary’s Church in Boyle Heights. Her new husband José Delgado observed her with unabashed pride.

They were married four months ago and this was the first time they attended the procession as man and wife. At 23, the young woman looked splendid in her dress, the color of the flag of Mexico, the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531. Children to grandparents from the parish sat on the float to represent the family of God. Behind the group hung an image of “La Morenita” with this year’s theme: “Virgin of Guadalupe, defender of the family.”

“It’s a privilege to be serving the Virgin because she is our mother,” an emotional Elsie told Angelus News.

Carmelita Alcalá, a volunteer with Grupo Guadalupanas, helped decorate the float. “Since I am a woman, I identify with the Virgencita, and I thank her for being the Mother of God.”

Farther up, Father Joseph Farías of St. Mary’s accompanied his parishioners with the float. “When I was young, I didn’t know anything about Our Lady of Guadalupe. I knew that the Virgin Mary was a helper because I’m a Salesian. After 40 years I began to comprehend the devotion to la Guadalupana because in various parishes where I was we always had her feast and there I felt the devotion of the people. I learned the history of the apparitions and of the image she left on Juan Diego’s tilma,” he said while he waited for the procession to begin at 10:30 a.m.

The enthusiasm of Gerardo Rodríguez of St. Columbkille in South L.A. was contagious. “We each came happy to put our little grain of sand to increase the faith and ask our mother to help us. We trust in her. Our Archbishop [José H.] Gomez has asked us to pray for families that are being separated over questions of immigration.”

It took his parish two days to decorate its float, working from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Cousins Anthony Trujullo and Erwin Barrios, both 10, helped decorate the float for the procession with their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. They also collaborated to prepare the thousands of tamales that they will give to their parish community in the early morning of Dec. 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then they will pray a rosary together and attend Mass, which will begin at 4 a.m., ending the celebration with “Las Ma√±anitas,” sung by a local mariachi.

Obdulia Flores, Anthony’s mother, said that it “feels beautiful that my son is here because this is a tradition that was given to us by our father.” She added that the Blessed Mother heard her prayers and her son was cured from a serious health problem with which he was born.

Meanwhile, in front of Our Lady of Solitude, Archbishop Gomez and Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell greeted participants while they waited for the procession to begin.

“Since I arrived in Los Angeles in 1978, I’ve been celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe. She has really helped me through the years. With her sacred image we have gone to evangelize the neighborhoods. We have reached the hearts of the people,” Bishop O’Connell said. “This event is an opportunity to renew our prayers for the Virgin Mother’s help, especially to pray for all of those immigrants she loves so much. Let’s put our lives in her hands so that she will care for us. Let’s ask her for a better life for us and for our society, and she will help us, guide us and protect us.”

The oldest procession in Los Angeles began that fall morning at the intersection of César Chavez and Ford. Archbishop Gomez and Bishop O’Connell put two flowers in the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, covered by a rose-colored blanket. An estimated 30,000 came from as far as Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to march.

The procession and Mass to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe are a feast for the eyes and ears. The events — which have taken place for 85 consecutive years — overflow with colors in the dancers’ Aztec attire, with rattles at their ankles and feathers on their heads, moving to the rhythms of the drums and wind instruments. Lázaro Armis√∫n, who has danced for Our Lady of Guadalupe for more than 45 years and has received the title of “General of Aztec Dance in the United States,” was among them.

“Dance is a prayer that we give to our mother,” he said, wearing the feathers of a condor on his head. He added that the dance is a force to “preserve the culture and traditions of our people.”

Believers proclaimed, “¬°Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! ¬°Viva nuestra madre santísima!” or “Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! Long live our Blessed Mother!” Charros on horseback, Boy Scouts, Catholic school students, veterans, mariachis and bands with drums and trumpets followed the floats. Many in the procession dressed as the Virgin Mother or St. Juan Diego, or they had their images on their T-shirts.

The Knights of Columbus in full regalia escorted the procession.

“For me, it’s an honor to be here,” said Rodolgo Rios, a Knight of Columbus in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “We are Guadalupanos and our first promise is to the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Ramiro Iniestra, who, in addition to being a Knight of Columbus, has a theatrical group called Gidai, which tries to evangelize through religious performances, was next to him. He said he felt “blessed to be in this event each year to support the Guadalupano community and Archbishop Gomez.”

A few blocks away at East Los Angeles College Stadium in Monterrey Park, hundreds of faithful waited for the arrival of the procession to begin the celebration of Mass.

Participants took to their feet to receive the missionary image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which in the days leading up to the procession had been brought to about 50 parishes — including Catalina Island for the first time — as well as five detention centers in the three counties in the archdiocese.

The 1 p.m. Mass silenced the procession ruckus. Those in the procession took their seats during the Mass, celebrated by the archbishop. Organizers released white pigeons, which flew in a circle around the stadium while mariachi musicians played. 

“This is a beautiful day in which we give our lives to the care of our mother and the Church. We come together as God’s family to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe during this time of Advent, of conversion,” the archbishop said. “We are here to pray during a time full of challenges for our country. Some of our brothers and sisters are afraid and are worried about the future. So we ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, protector of our family, on their behalf. We know that she always wants to be close to us. We know the Church is always with her people in love and solidarity. I want this time to unite us as a community and that we support each other.”

The archbishop announced that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared Dec. 12 as a National Day of Prayer and Solidarity for Families of Immigrants.

After Communion, Msgr. John Moretta, pastor of Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights, was honored for his 30 years of leadership of the Guadalupano Committee, the principal organizer of the event. The priest has also worked on behalf of the community with countless health, education and environmental efforts.