Native Americans venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe

The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is expected to gather hundreds of people today in Cowlic, a village on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, about 75 miles southwest of Tucson, reported the Arizona Daily Star.

El Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, which is Our Lady's feast day, is an important day not only for Latin Americans, who revere the Virgen, but for American Indians also.

The cross-cultural passion for the Dec. 12 annual feast day stems from the indigenous connection to the story of the Virgen, and in the case of the Tohono O'odham in Arizona, a devout Catholicism that has not faded since Spanish missionaries converted the tribe in the 1600s. About 85 per cent of the residents remain Catholic.

Since Dec. 3, the 200 residents of Cowlic have been making nightly novena observances, processing a wooden statue of La Virgen to different village families.

"I try to always get it in my house for one night, for my grandchildren," Caroline Valenzuela, 61, told the Daily Star. The tribal member and lifelong resident of Cowlic remembers feast days when she was a young girl attending the village parish, named after Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church was built in 1921.

The statue of the Virgen stayed Monday night in the home that Valenzuela shares with her two daughters and 11 grandchildren. Her devotion to Mary is evident by looking around her home. It is decorated with statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, an embroidered depiction of La Virgen de Guadalupe that takes up an entire wall in the front room, and a framed picture of Our Lady on a bookshelf, draped in rosaries. A closer look at Our Lady's eyes, Valenzuela noted, reveals images of San Juan Diego.

Before 30 villagers came take the statue to begin the nightly novena on Tuesday, Valenzuela and some of her granddaughters said silent prayers. They placed their hands on the statue's head and made the sign of the cross.

Reciting the Rosary, villagers, followed by several dogs, walked the statue across the dusty dirt roads under an archway that the women made of paper flowers. The tribal members, ranging in age from 5 to more than 60, held candles and roses.

Many Cowlic residents, including 64-year-old Martin Pancho, took time off work this week to prepare for today’s feast day, which will begin with a 10 a.m. mass. It is expected to go into nighttime with music, dancing, fireworks and food, including homemade tamales, chili and menudo. Tribal members from across the 2.8 million-acre reservation often travel to Cowlic, which is known for its elaborate Dec. 12 festivities.

Carmella Pablo, an 18-year-old senior at Baboquivari High School, who participated in the novena, said she intends to maintain devotion to Our Lady when she's older. She may one day have children and walk in the Cowlic processions with them, she told the newspaper.

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