DECEMBER 1531 | TEPEYAC HILL, MEXICO
As the tradition goes, the Virgin Mary first appeared to St. Juan Diego on December 9, 1531 in an area of Mexico (that is now considered a suburb of Mexico City). She requested that Juan Diego build a shrine of faith at this very spot called Tepeyac Hill. She appeared to him again on December 12. The bishop, who did not believe Juan Diego the first time, was present later when he opened his cloak and dozens of roses –– that Mary instructed him to collect –– fell to the ground revealing an imprinted image of Mary inside of the cloak. The image known as the Virgin of Guadalupe is now honored in the Basilica of Guadalupe. Also called Our Lady of Guadalupe, the apparition plays an important role in the current practice of Roman Catholicism in Mexico, as well as serving as a national symbol of Mexico.
Fast forward nearly half a millennium and the apparition and corresponding traditions still hold significance –– even at an all-girls high school in Milwaukee in 2019.
WHERE FAITH AND CULTURE MEET
Natalia Perez, DSHA ’19, is a member of the Furia Latina club at DSHA. This club is dedicated to the appreciation of Hispanic culture and addresses topics of interest to Latinas, while also collaborating with other organizations within the school to celebrate and promote Latino culture.
For several weeks leading up to the December Mass, Perez and seven other leaders from the club partnered with staff and members of Campus Ministry to orchestrate a celebration worthy of the feast day. A day that allows students of Mexican heritage to lead the community in collective worship and prayer through a shared faith.
“The Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass perfectly sums up who I am –– the faith and the culture together,” Perez says of the day. “The two areas are not just compatible in my life, they are inseparable. I feel as though I am out of balance without one or the other. So when I get to be a part of combining them and share with my school, it is a very special day.”
A HISTORY THAT RESIDES DEEP WITHIN
Perez views this celebration as a way to actively engage her peers. She shares, “this is an opportunity to sow my faith and culture together and to do what Juan Diego did –– to hold onto his faith. And I want the same thing for my classmates.”
Perez and many of her fellow Hispanic classmates along with faculty and staff, began the Mass with a procession down the aisle to the altar. The Spanish hymn Las Apraraiciones Guadalupanas was sung with Diana Padilla, DSHA ’19, leading worship on the guitar. Each processing Dasher held a hand-made, brightly colored, paper flower while walking toward a shrine with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. While in silent reflection, participants placed the flowers at the base of the shrine until a vibrant collection of crepe paper and prayer fronted the altar.
“Presenting a flower to Mary is my favorite part of the Mass. Because in a way, we are each Juan Diego,” Perez shares with the wisdom of someone well beyond 18 years
of age. “Presenting the flower grounds me. I feel like I am part of a history that resides deep within me.”
For Perez this Mass is not simply about a regrounding of faith. It is a form of gratitude for Mary and, “what she did for the people of Mexico,” she says, given Juan Diego was
Aztec, a minority culture in Mexico at the time.
“When Mary appeared to him it provided hope to his people,” Perez says. “My dad is from Mexico and my mom is first-generation American. They carry this hope with them today and so do I. My hope for this Mass is that my classmates would be able to see how important Mary is to my culture. I want to show them what a special celebration
this is for us.”
A FORM OF PRAYER
Vivi Sanchez, DSHA ’21, is also a member of Furia Latina and played an important role in the Mass. Prior to the closing prayer of the Mass that was said in both Spanish and English, Sanchez and three other dancers (including Izabella Luevano, DSHA ’22, and Quetzaly Torres, DSHA ’22) performed a complicated, strong, and beautiful routine to the beat of a single and powerful drum as a form of worship. She, like Perez, treats this opportunity with a sacred level of respect and joy.
“The Our Lady Mass feels so different,” she shares. “Every Mass I attend I feel warmth in my heart because I’m in the home of Jesus, but seeing my culture represented in a way that I participate in is so special. It is a culmination of who I am.”
Who she is, is a dancer at her core. Sanchez has been dancing various forms of traditional Mexican dance since fourth grade, rehearsing more nights than not at the Milwaukee Dance Academy of Mexico. The costumes and movements of this tradition drew her in from the moment she laid eyes on her first performance as a child. She begged for lessons and has been performing ever since. She views her dancing as a way to live out her Mexican heritage and roots in Milwaukee.
And bringing this heritage to a Mass at DSHA is, “such an honor,” she shares. “This dancing (done during the Mass) is called Azteca –– and Juan Diego was an Aztec. When I perform at church, it is a form of prayer. At rehearsal we hear the stories and learn why each dance is so important. When I dance, I embrace both my culture and my faith more deeply –– they work together to help me express where I come from.”
A MORE CONNECTED COMMUNITY
For both Perez and Sanchez, this Mass helps them to feel united with the DSHA community –– more so than usual. They are two of 15% of the student body that identify as Latina. And on this particular day in December, the commonality of a shared faith helps bridge a gap that at times feels divided.
“I feel more connected to the school during this celebration,” Perez shares. “I felt so supported by non-Latino students after the Mass. So many of my classmates said, ‘that was the most beautiful Mass I have ever seen!’ And I love hearing them so excited. Sometimes at school, it is hard to balance things happening in the outside world. But during this time, I feel a part of something because I am contributing to my school community and my culture at the same time.”
Sanchez shares similar feelings about the Mass. “I hold my culture very close to my heart. I’m never going to leave my culture or my roots. I am so proud to be where I am from, and I feel my classmates embrace this about me when they see me dance.”
MOVING FORWARD AS “ONE FAMILY”
In the past, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass has at times been optional. For the past three years and moving forward, it will continue to be an annual all-school celebration. Sanchez loves this new tradition and shares, “I hope this Mass always helps us understand how special it is to come together as a one community ––even in our differences. This is why I share my talent for dancing and my culture. And I love being at a place that we all get to share our talents for our faith if we choose. We are all one family.”
Both Perez and Sanchez feel the blessings of community found in the DSHA sisterhood. As Luke's Gospel from the Mass proclaimed, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” They saw this lived out in their school –– nearly five hundred years after Juan Diego saw something that would prove to change lives for generations to come.