Faithful from around Southern California braved the rain and cold the evening of Dec. 11 to fill the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and celebrate another year under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Empress of the Americas.”
The birthday celebration of sorts included a rosary and Mariachi performance, as well as Aztec dancers and free refreshments on the Cathedral Plaza. It culminated in a Midnight Mass to kick off the 491st anniversary of Our Lady’s final apparition to an indigenous peasant in present-day Mexico City.
And in what has become an LA tradition, the evening attracted some star power to the cathedral to lead a late night “mañanitas” birthday serenade for the Virgin.
“I’m always busy this time of year, but today I had the chance to be part of something that’s so special to me,” remarked singer Lupita Infante. “For years, I’ve been entrusting myself to “La Virgencita” in my singing career, and she’s always answered my prayers.”
Infante, granddaughter of the late legendary Mexican singer Pedro Infante, was part of an all-female lineup of musicians paying tribute to Our Lady this year that included Las Hermanas Barajas, Angel Ng, Jackie Ibarra and Karla Carrillo, as well as the mariachi group “Somos México.”
For big name artists like Infante, honoring Our Lady goes beyond performing in “mañanitas” celebrations like the LA cathedral’s or at the Guadalupe shrine in Mexico.
“It’s something very important in our lives, as 'Guadalupanos' but also as Mexicans. She is our banner, our hope, our symbol of hope,” said Infante, who, like her grandmother, was named after the Virgin.
Infante’s grandfather, who died in a plane crash in 1957, is considered one of the greatest musical idols in Mexican history. A well-known devotee to Our Lady, he once led a 30-hour national telethon in Mexico to raise money for the rebuilding of the old Guadalupe basilica in Mexico City. For Infante, the “mañanitas” serenade was both an opportunity to continue the family tradition of honoring the Virgin, and a way to feel united to the grandfather she never got to meet.
At the cathedral that night, one of the two songs performed by Infante was her grandfather’s rendition of “Ave Maria,” which he sang to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 1950s Mexican film classic “Tizoc.”
For another musician in the night’s lineup, the festivities were a special way to entrust themselves to Our Lady and invoke her protection for the year to come.
“I’ve always promised since I started singing that I would sing to her every year,” said singer Angel Ng, on her sixth turn singing for the “Guadalupana.” “I wanted to offer her that because she takes care of my voice, of my gift. She’s guided me, and picks up when sometimes I am down,” Ng told Angelus with emotion before taking the stage Sunday night.
The tradition of singing to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico — and televising it — began in 1951 — when the serenade had to take place outdoors because the Vatican wouldn’t give permission to sing inside the original basilica in Mexico City. Five years later, the restriction was loosened and the live “mañanitas” event became a national TV spectacle with the biggest names in Mexican music singing before her image.
The LA cathedral, which houses a small fragment of the miraculous Guadalupe “tilma” (“cloak”) fabric, was also the scene of a live special program aired by the local NBC and Telemundo TV stations that included coverage from San Diego, the Bay Area, and Mexico. The live transmission of the event itself was made possible through a collaboration with EWTN Español.
It is commonly said in Mexico that one is a “Guadalupano” first and a Mexican second. The evening’s festivities offered evidence that among the Mexican immigrant community, the Faith and its traditions have immigrated with them. Archbishop José H. Gomez, a native of Mexico himself, urged the hundreds who stayed for the midnight Mass in honor of Guadalupe not to forget those roots.
“The Virgin of Guadalupe is our mother!” said the archbishop in his homily, delivered in Spanish. “She is who we are! She is where we come from! She is the one we long to be with — because she shows us Jesus, she shows us God.”
Archbishop Gomez also pointed to the example of the Virgin Mary’s life as a help for Catholics to live their own vocation, starting at home and in their families.
“The kingdom grows through the little things in our daily lives, through little acts of love and gentleness, and friendship,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Love is the path. …Love those the Lord has put in your life!”
“This was Mary’s way, and St. Joseph’s,” the archbishop added. “And it should be our way, too.”