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Political Mercury

Devout Denison Latinos showcase family, faith


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Where are the 43? Claudia Mecias (far left) and Rocio Moreno (far right) hold a banner asking questions about the fate of 43 students in Mexico who went missing after protesting government hiring policies. Media reports around the world link the disappearance of the students to drug gangs in Mexico. Mecias and Moreno raised the banner during a celebration of the Virgin Mary at St. Rose of Lima of Denison.

Faith and pageantry walked hand-in-hand through St. Rosa of Lima Parish Sunday as more than 700 Latino Catholics celebrated the feast of Guadalupe — a signature event in their culture.

Dec. 12 is the official feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but Father Paul Kelly, pastor of St. Rose of Lima, says the Denison ceremony occurs on the nearest Sunday on the calendar.

Guadalupe is the patron saint of heavily Catholic Mexico and is a key figure for western Iowa immigrants of that faith.

The event at St. Rose of Lima, in which Kelly holds masses in both Spanish and English, involves spectacularly colorful costumes and dances with historical meaning to the parishioners — many of whom used cellphone cameras to archive their families’ roles in the two-hour program.

“They show up in the early morning hours to sing to the Virgin Mary very popular songs from the tradition,” Kelly said. “It commemorates the apparition of the Virgin Mary to an Indian named Juan Diego in 1531.

“She appeared in a manner that spoke symbolically, the way she was dressed, the way she appeared.”

The icon had a unifying effect in Mexico and helped bring people into Christianity, Kelly said.

“Before her appearance, very few were being converted into the faith because of the horrible experience with the conquistadors (the Spanish who conquered Mexico),” Kelly said. “After her appearance, millions and millions of Indians converted willingly and joyfully because she spoke to their hearts.”

The Catholic Church is a worldwide faith, and the celebration of Guadalupe in rural Iowa is evocative of that, Kelly said.

“The popes have been speaking about evangelization and doing it in a way that speaks to people in the modern world,” Kelly said. “This clearly was one of the greatest evangelization moments in Catholic history. It was the greatest amount of conversions in a 10-year span ever in the history of the Catholic Church. So it’s a great model to us.”

On Sunday, the parishioners, largely young families with many children, some of them attired in ancient costumes, arrived in the church before 6 a.m. Later, in a reception area, hundreds remained to eat breads and soups, drink punches and coffee and continue in song and prayer.

St. Rose of Lima parishioner Adrian Bac, 59, of Denison, said the tradition is essential to the Latino Catholic culture.

“Mary shows us the way to Christ,” said Bac, a native of Salt Lake City, Utah, who has lived in Denison for 27 years.

“A lot of people, they have a special love for our lady. It is very important for our community to celebrate this day.”

Kelly said there is no connection with the ceremony and Christmas other than the image of Guadalupe is pregnant. What’s more, the festive nature of the event blends well the seasonal mood.

“It’s really an exciting day for everyone because it represents such a joy and a fervor people have for Guadalupe and the message she brought,” he said.

St. Rose of Lima has about 500 families, with about 200 of them Latino. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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