Juan Tavarez admitted that a year ago, he was a humbled spectator at the Grand Marian Procession, the annual celebration dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels and Los Angeles’ birthday fiesta.

This time, Tavarez, a native of Mexico living in Long Beach, was moved to do more than just watch.

As a newly initiated member of the Hermandad del Señor de Los Milagros (The Brotherhood of the Christ of Miracles), Tavarez donned the royal purple friar robe, secured by a large white rope belt. He was chosen as one of eight to hoist the large floral-decorated platform that carried a statue of the Virgin Mary, holding the infant Jesus, during the warm Saturday afternoon.

Unsure if he could complete the trip of less than a mile from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels down Temple Street, then turning onto Main Street and across the 101 Freeway overpass to Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church next to Olvera Street, Tavarez said he drew strength from the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered on August 25. 

“It was much harder than it looks — the flower vases alone were 10 pounds,” Tavarez said with a smile as he cooled down with a mango con chile raspado from a La Placita patio food stand. 

“There might have been a point where I wanted to set it down. I felt it in my knees,” he said. “But the compelling reason to do this is that it was a great honor to carry the patroness of the city of Los Angeles. The people lifted me up.”

The eighth annual parade began with Archbishop José H. Gomez celebrating a votive Mass attended by some 1,000 at the cathedral. He then walked the procession, which was led by a Los Angeles County fire truck and highlighted by colorful performers. 

The procession included a variety of service organizations and religious orders, and roared to life when more than a dozen Knights of Columbus members came through on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, with members as far away as Fresno and San Bernardino. The Los Angeles Catholic Schools Marching Band playing “Hail Holy Queen” brought it through to the end.

At one point, when the Grand Marian Procession crossed the intersection of Temple and Hill streets, a double-decker Starline tour bus was stopped behind temporary barriers just put up by LA parking enforcement.

But the event actually provided some inspiration for a half-dozen tourists in the open-air deck of the bus who stood, waved to the participants, got out their smart phones and started taking videos and selfies.

At La Placita, the Virgin Mary statue was taken off the rolling pedestal, and the Hermandad del Señor de Los Milagros volunteers put the wooden beams holding it onto their shoulders as they genuflected at the Main Street former entrance.

The procession circled to the Spring Street entrance before the statue was placed on the altar. The Danza Guadalupana of Oxnard, a Mexican Catholic group that honors the Virgin Mary, performed a ceremonial dance and two singers performed an inspiring version of “Ave Maria.”

It was all another befitting way to mark the 237th anniversary of the starting point for the City of Los Angeles. For some, the walk actually began nine miles away at the San Gabriel Mission, where descendants of the city’s 11 founding families, Los Pobladores, continued their tradition of making the three-hour trek. 

A brick path shows the final steps of the colonists who founded El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles on Sept. 4, 1781.

Archbishop Gomez, who performed the blessing for the congregation packed into Our Lady Queen of Angels, said earlier during his bilingual homily at the cathedral that it was important to draw from the significant points in the first reading from Isaiah 9:1-6 and the Gospel of Luke 1:25-38.

“As we all know, these have been days of trial in the Church in our country. … It is a time of sorrow and penance in the Church. And so in a special way today, we ask our Blessed Mother to help us to bring healing and forgiveness and justice in the Church,” he said.

“The founders of this city — the missionary priests and the lay faithful — came together to build a new world here. In the beginning, Los Angeles was meant to be a city of God. … When they named this city for Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels, LA’s founders recognized that every human authority is under God.

“The city of God is meant to be God’s family — brothers and sisters walking in the great light of the Son of God. This is the purpose of Los Angeles, to be a city of saints and a city of the angels.”

As an event sponsored by the Queen of Angels Foundation, founding chairman and CEO Mark Anchor Albert said he thought it was particularly poignant for this ceremony, which now takes place on the last Saturday in August, to come in the wake of a clergy sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania that is still in the news.

Albert, a Lutheran-to-Catholic convert in 2001, was among the lead defense attorneys in the 2002 Los Angeles-based sex abuse scandal in charge of closing settlements. He said he took a vow to the Blessed Mother that if he came out of that process with his faith intact, he would do something to honor her.

A ministry trip to Lourdes in France with the Sovereign Order of Malta opened his eyes to a Marian procession there, and inspired him to start this nonprofit organization to serve Los Angeles.

Albert said board membership from representatives at the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Knights of Peter Claver and the Knights of Columbus show the mission of the Queen of Angels Foundation is working.

“To see all these different groups, ethnicities and cultures come together in solidarity, it shows the unifying power of Mary,” said Albert.

“If we ask for her protection and her love, and the protection of her angels, then we are united as a family. And if there is ever a time we need maternal protection, it’s right now.”

Tom Hoffarth is an award-winning journalist based in Los Angeles.

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