Marcia Garcia credits Our Lady of Guadalupe with saving her life not once, but twice.
Garcia said she was dehydrated nearly to the point of death at age 1, when her parents asked the Virgin Mary to intercede for her and she was successfully healed.
She also credits Our Lady with helping her survive cancer as an adult.
“She means everything to me,” Garcia said. “She is my entire life.”
It is these types of experiences that brought Garcia and hundreds of other faithful parishioners to parishes across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to view the pilgrim images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego as they travel throughout the region annually leading up to this year’s 92nd procession and Mass on Dec. 3.
“I came to say goodbye to the Virgin, and to accompany her at her rosary and her Mass before she leaves,” said Garcia, a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier Church in Pico Rivera, where the images were displayed for two days before moving on to the next parish.
The images of Our Lady and Diego began their 2023 LA pilgrimage journey on a boat. St. Catherine of Alexandria Church on Catalina Island was the first parish to receive the images, celebrating with dancers, a procession through the streets, then Mass and adoration before bidding them farewell.
“The words of Elizabeth, ‘Who am I that the mother of the Lord should come to me?’ That echoes also in our hearts as we also feel that way,” said Father Dario Miranda, pastor at St. Catherine, during the farewell Mass. “Who are we that the mother of Our Lord has come to visit us?
“Moments such as these, it’s like the heavens opened and the Lord sends forth, through her intercession, many blessings, many graces, particularly to the community that is honoring her, like we are today.”
From there, the images traveled to All Souls Cemetery and Mortuary in Long Beach for a day before spending three days at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Whittier, with plenty of celebration, reverence, and prayer.
Father Raymont Medina, the newly arrived administrator at St. Mary of the Assumption, compared the images’ arrival to “waiting for a relative to come to visit.”
“You know that feeling that you get when someone’s coming, there’s a little bit of anticipation, hopefully everything goes well. When the image arrived, I had this overall sense of peace. Mom’s home.”
In Pico Rivera, the visit coincided with the blessing of new statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego in the outdoor fountain at St. Francis Xavier Church.
Parishioners gathered around the newly installed statues as pastor Father Martin Madero and his associate, Father Alberto Cuevas, held a blessing ceremony on the final evening of hosting the images.
Maria Felix Chavez, a parishioner who volunteered during the festivities, was on hand and hoped the Virgin’s visit to the parish would unify and inspire the parish community.
“I hope that we will all place ourselves under her mantle and become simple, humble, and obedient so that members of the community are unified and place themselves at the service of others,” Chavez said.
The Virgin is important for Chavez’s family because she has shown them — through example — how to “have a love toward God and us as her children.”
“She represents the immigrants, the people who are coming from Mexico and from many other countries to the United States,” Father Madero said. “The people are connected to her. It’s important for our community because they identify themselves with Our Lady of Guadalupe as a pilgrim.”
Father Cuevas remembers when the pilgrim images were first gifted to the archdiocese more than 20 years ago, as he was a bishop’s secretary in Mexico at the time.
When he first caught sight of the Our Lady of Guadalupe image as it arrived at his parish, “all my memories came back to me,” he said.
The Our Lady of Guadalupe image is an exact digital reproduction of the one at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and has been blessed by the pope and touched to the original.
The images celebrate when Mary appeared to Diego in Mexico in 1531 to ask that a shrine be built on Tepeyac Hill. After appearing to the bishop several times, Juan Diego brought roses in his “tilma” (cloak) as proof of Mary’s request. When he opened his cloak, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted on the cloak.
Since then, Our Lady of Guadalupe has been named the patroness of the Americas and a particularly strong sign for immigrants.
“She is not just the mother of Mexicans, but to the whole world,” Chavez said. “She is the mother to God, and she is our mother.”
From Pico Rivera, the images continued to other parishes, including Our Lady of Victory Church in East LA, and St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church in Watts. Wherever they go, Catholics say, they find a way of pointing people toward a more important figure.
“I was away from the Church for a while, but I’ve come back,” said Ruben Martinez, a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier. “Through praying the rosary and just contemplating the mysteries of the rosary, learning more about her and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it’s brought me closer to Jesus Christ and to the Church.”
“We all need that friend, that family member that we go to when we ask for prayers when something’s not going right,” Father Medina said. “We need all the spiritual help we can get. Our Lady is going to provide us with that help.”
To view the images’ pilgrimage schedule, visit lacatholics.org/guadalupe.