The sound of beating drums echoed through the walls of Sacred Heart Church on Wednesday, as over a thousand Catholics watched a group of Aztec dancers unite to manifest their cultural spirit to La Virgen de Guadalupe.
This annual celebration of when the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 is special time for me because I've been an Aztec dancer for 13 years.
The story behind this celebration demonstrates how the Catholic faith gained importance in the hearts of the Mexican people. It is a story of miracles and faith which mark a change in the history of Mexico. Coming together in spirit, Catholics this week observed a significant religious event that took place nearly five centuries ago.
The Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, observed on Dec. 12, marks the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary, believed by Catholics to be the mother of Jesus Christ, to Juan Diego, a native, in 1531. During her apparition she asked to be known as the Virgin of Guadalupe and for a church to be built so she could be close to her people, according to religious leaders.
As the story goes, to prove her identity she told Juan Diego to gather flowers in his cloak, the same cloak later revealed her image which provided the proof religious leaders needed at the time. Today, Juan Diego's cloak is framed and hangs in a shrine located at the Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe in Mexico City.
"After the Spaniards conquered Mexico, many of the indigenous Indians were converted into Catholicism,” said Aztec dancer Silvia Alcala. “The Spaniards encountered many difficulties with the conversion because the Mexican people had existing strong beliefs in their many gods. It wasn’t until the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to indigenous Juan Diego that the beliefs started to change.”
The celebration venerates an icon central to many Latino's lives and identities, offering dignity, unity, strength, and hope.
As I stepped into my traditional outfit and chanted through the vibration of the beating drums, I was celebrating thousands of years of my history and heritage. It is a form of expressing my individuality and prayer. I will continue to unite with my fellow dancers to express our worship and carry on the Christian tradition.