By Petra Alexander
For Latinos who celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe each December as a zenith in their faith life, this year’s COVID-19 restrictions in our counties presented a challenge.
Knowing the health data, we understood why we could not enjoy the usual manifestations of this festival: pilgrimages, dances, songs, performances, community meals and drinks… Everything was suspended, except our love for her. The pandemic has reinforced the certainty that we need her more than ever.
So, with a team assembled from several Diocesan offices we developed a program for a Novena with the purpose of deepening the Guadalupano message in 2020. “Nine Stars and Nine Roses” was the motto in offering nine, nightly reflections on different topics that illuminate our faith and motivate us to believe in hope. Nine roses signified our offer to such a good Mother. The two dimensions, the stars that provide us orientation and guidance and the perfume of roses that springs from our solidarity work, effort to bring elements of conversion, have been the axis.
• Elder Samaniego, Director of the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, took the topic Health of the Sick, to reflect on other pandemics of the past in Latin America and how Our Lady of Guadalupe is historically associated with the protection and recovery of her people.
• Dr. José Antonio Medina, Director of the Diocesan Office of Continuing Formation of Priests, told the Guadalupano story, Who is Our Lady? Mother of the true God for whom one lives, within the framework of Mariology.
• The Diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life highlighted Our Lady’s role in peacemaking and how she has been a reconciler of social processes and families.
• The Guadalupana Missionary Sisters reflected on Our Lady and the ecology. We were invited to reflect on the effort and sacrifice of the field workers as essential workers in these times of pandemic and the responsibility to care for our land as taught by Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si.
• María Antonia Amao, Program Coordinator for the Ministry Formation Institute, reflected on how Our Lady brought numerous graces, and she decided to give prominence to the meek and helpless. St. Juan Diego was an ambassador, and his leadership strengthens pastoral care.
• Maria Covarrubias, Director of the Department of Ministry of Educational Services, focused on Evangelization, highlighting that Our Lady is that star who has indicated the path to the gospel of her Son.
• Sister Angelica Gudiño and seminarian Ricardo Ahumada took the theme of vocations, highlighting St. Juan Diego’s vocational process, similar to that of the prophets. This reflection included testimonials from people who are currently seeking God’s call in their lives.
The last star we reflected on was solidarity, as the message of Our Lady who wishes to manifest all her love and understanding. We understood that we are called to comfort, to give encouragement and support, especially to all the victims of this pandemic.
The lights of each star of the Novena were illuminated in testimonies and chants from various parishes. Families were able to contribute their Guadalupana chants in the virtual setting. The Novena had surprising reach as people from different regions joined.
“We have been greatly impacted by the depth with which aspects we did not know about Our Lady were touched,” shared Lily Alvarez, who participated from Las Vegas. “We are very grateful to the Diocese of San Bernardino for sharing this experience. We learned from their creativity and we are glad that they multiplied the message across different platforms.”
Andrea Garcia, a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Bernardino, shared, “we have followed the entire novena with great interest to better understand the reason why Mexicans and Latinos in general love Our Lady of Guadalupe so much. We are from Uruguay, and we had not seen a manifestation of faith like the one here.”
Maria Johannes, an immigrant who lives in the Diocese, said the Novena energized her faith.
“It’s been a long time since I came to serve, dubious that as an immigrant I could do something in the Church,” she said. “Now I see that all this time she took me by her hand. Despite this pandemic, there is so much to cry about, to be thankful for and to keep asking.”
Petra Alexander is the Director of the Office of Hispanic Affairs for the Diocese of San Bernardino.