“Not every Mexican is a Catholic, but every Mexican is a Guadalupano” — Octavio Paz

Starting on  Dec. 3, rain or shine, Maria “Chuyita” Delgado takes her much cherished framed image of the “La Morenita” from home to home throughout the Pacoima area for a novena where on each night, for nine days, a different family takes part in reciting the rosary.  The rosary for La Virgen is recited until Dec.12 — the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For many, beyond religion, “Guadalupe,” the patron saint of Mexico is a powerful symbol that reflects Mexican identity and culture. Her image can be found on everyday items, on public art and clothing. Many also identify with the cultural symbolism associated with her image utilized to represent strength and encouragement for social justice movements in the United States. The Guadalupe image has always been carried by protestors at the front of the United Farmworkers marches since the organization's inception.

Delgado said the image “brings peace and devotion” everywhere it goes. 

“We’re her devotees,” Delgado, 62, explained. “She’s the one who intercedes on behalf of all of us before God, Jesus Christ. Because of her we have everything.” “I take her [image] everywhere people ask me to,” said Delgado, 62.

On Monday night, Dec. 9, a gathering of the faithful was held at Maria Payan’s home along Pierce Street. It was her turn to host the novena, with the image of the Lady of Guadalupe placed in the middle of her living room. It was surrounded by several flower arrangements — mostly roses in allusion to the story of her apparition before San Juan Diego at Tepeyac, Mexico City in 1531.

On Dec. 12, 488 years ago, it's believed that  Our Lady of Guadalupe is said to have left her image imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma  (cloak)  as a miracle for ecclesiastical authorities who doubted he was telling the truth about seeing and speaking to her. 

Five centuries later, the   tilma  which has been scientifically examined and considered by the Church as “not of this world,”  is still on display at the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City, constructed in her honor. Millions of people visit throughout the year pay homage to her , thousands on her feast day.

“This is a tradition and something we like to do,” said Payan, as she welcomed her guests. “People always gather to pay homage to her. We do this every year.”

She’s been part of the novena for more than a decade, and notes every year the same people usually participate, although people do come and go.

By 7 p.m. it’s time for “Chuyita” to begin the rosary.

 The people gathered at the house sing “La Guadalupana” a Christian hymn, as they start their prayers. Everyone participates.

Some 30 minutes later, the prayers end and it’s time for food and camaraderie. That is also part of the tradition.

After a while, people head back to their homes. But the image stayed in the Payan home that night and the next day until Delgado picks it up and takes it to the next house.

She does the same thing until Dec, 12, when there is a morning prayer at the home where the image is staying that day, and then Delgado takes it home until the next year.

On that day, Catholic churches across the Valley and the Southland open before dawn for the traditional“Mañanitas” with Mariachi music, followed by throngs of parishioners paying their respects to the “Patroness of the Americas,” as it was so declared by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999.

It is also a day when Latino families practice the tradition of dressing small children in indigenous attire and taking them before Our Lady of Guadalupe, often making“mandas” (promises), in exchange for special favors.

“She protects us and our home”

Rosa Sandoval no longer dresses her daughters in indigenous attire as she did when they were younger. But her devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe remains as strong as ever.

Every Dec. 12 the family wakes up early to attend“Las Mananitas” at the Santa Rosa Catholic Church in San Fernando before taking the kids to school. They return later to take flowers and spend a couple of hours with the Virgin.

Their faith is palpable at their home, too.

On one side of the entrance to her house is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe with Pope John Paul II that Sandoval bought in Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico six years ago. It is made up of bright tiles that her husband, Jose Sandoval, attached to the wall with cement.

“I had seen (the same image) in different homes here and when I went to (Tonala), I saw it and we bought it,” Sandoval said.

 She wrapped the tiles in paper and put them in her carry-on bag, carefully caring for them.

 Sandoval arrived in the US with the pieces intact, but customs officials at first wouldn’t let her enter with them.

 “I don’t speak much English, but I would tell the officers the way I could that it was a religious item, to please don’t take them away,” Sandoval said. “In the end, I don’t know how, they let it pass.”

 Now the tiles act like a shield — not only against the Jehovahs Witnesses that pass by her house along Fellows Street in Pacoima on the weekends and simply keep going when they see the image, but also against bad vibes, Sandoval said.

“For us, for me, it means a lot. Who doesn’t respect Jesus’ mother?” she said.

“She brought Jesus Christ into the world. As Catholics, Our Lady of Guadalupe means everything to us Mexicans because it was part of the Spanish Conquest and since her apparition to Juan Diego, we identify with her.”

Sandoval added the family has an altar inside their home with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, along with other images throughout the house — nine in total.

“She protects our home,” she said.

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