Early this past Sunday morning the sounds of guitars and singing filled the crisp twilight air near or Catholic Churches.
The music emanated from the hundreds of people gathered at 5 a.m., many carried portraits of the Virgin of Guadalupe–the patron saint of Mexico–and brought flowers or candles to lay at the foot of the tiled mosaic images outside the two churches.
, who according to Mexican lore first appeared to a young indigenous boy named Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531. When he went to show proof of her apparition to the bishop on Dec. 12, 1531, her image had become impressed on his cloak from the ink of roses. The cloak currently hangs in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
"The Mexican loves the Virgin of Guadalupe with a deeply-felt love," said Deacon Leonel Mancilla of St. Athanasius, who helps to coordinate the event. "With the immigration and economic situation as it is, people seek the Virgin, who will listen to their sorrows."
St. Athanasius first coordinated this celebration in 1964, in response to the growing Mexican community. St. Joseph has had festivities for the Virgin of Guadalupe for at least 20 years. Now the entire Hispanic community joins in the events, which start on Saturday evening with mass, hot chocolate and bread. Then after the early Sunday morning serenade, more hot chocolate and sweet breads, and then menudo–tripe soup–for lunch before the 1:30 p.m. mass.
"I am Mexican and we are catholic, but all the other Latin American countries know the story of the virgin and they want to share with us," said the fifty-something-year-old María Sánchez and resident Mountain View, pointing to the flags of the different countries on the altar like Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, among other.
But devotion also spans the ages and This isn't just for the first generation immigrants. Friends ages nine to 14 came to leave roses and pray to the Virgin too.
"It's a lifestyle I grew up with," said Alba Huerta, 14, and parishioner of St. Athanasius. "I got used to it and I developed this faith toward the religion. I was raised this way."
An altar boy, Robert, 9, said that he "like's God's mother," and that he's used to coming to church.
Friend Shantal Reyes, 11, explained that even though she's American, she's Mexican too. All three kids are American-born.
"You are Latin and you can't forget where your family is from," she said.