With exuberant dancing, singing and prayers, a jubilant throng paid tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day Thursday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Priests who lead the church at 2706 S Shartel said parishioners began arriving for the annual feast day activities as early as 6 p.m. By midnight, when Archbishop Paul S. Coakley presided at a special Mass, the crowd had swelled to about 2,000.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is considered the patroness of the Americas. The activities for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe are particularly popular in Roman Catholic parishes that include a large number of Hispanic parishioners, particularly those of Mexican descent.
According to traditional accounts, an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared in 1531 to an Aztec peasant, Juan Diego (who was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002), in Tenochtitlan, Mexico, now Mexico City. The apparition was brown-skinned and pregnant.
According to accounts, the apparition told Diego to tell Roman Catholic Church leaders to build a cathedral for her there in the mountains. When a clergyman demanded proof of the encounter, the apparition told Diego to gather roses on the side of a mountain — in the middle of December. When Diego appeared at the church with the miraculous roses, the shocked bishop believed him.
An imprint of the apparition appeared on Diego's tilma, or cape, in which he'd carried the roses.
The traditional gatherings on the feast day of Our Lady occur in early morning because that is when the apparition, referred to as Our Lady, appeared to Juan Diego, local leaders said. While many of the services are held around 5 a.m., the events at Sacred Heart began in the evening before her Dec. 12 feast day.
In the Sacred Heart Catholic School gymnasium, parishioners held a re-enactment of Diego's encounter with Our Lady. Pedro Moreno, director of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City's office of Hispanic ministry, said the Mass that followed also was held in the gymnasium because it could hold at least 1,000 people. More than 300 people sat or stood in the church sanctuary and watched the activities on a video screen.
Despite chilly weather, people who couldn't get into either the sanctuary or school gymnasium seemed content to stand in the gymnasium foyer and outside on the church's front and back steps.