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Thousands Celebrated Cathedral Guadalupe’s New Shrine Status on Special Feast Day

The Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe is always popular at the downtown church. But this year was extra special for the congregation.
| |Photography by Bret Redman
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Thousands gathered at the historic downtown Catholic cathedral December 12 for the feast day celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a Marian apparition who is considered the patron saint of Mexico and of the Americas. Bret Redman
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Thousands Celebrated Cathedral Guadalupe’s New Shrine Status on Special Feast Day

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The scene outside Cathedral Guadalupe Tuesday evening was more festival than church. Crowds of people—dressed in athletic clothes, indigenous Mexican dress, ponchos bearing an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and suits—gathered in the courtyard. Images of stars, roses, and the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico and the cathedral, were projected onto the walls of the church as the bells from the church tower rang out. Others knelt and prayed in front a statue of the saint, which had been bedecked with bouquets of roses and lit prayer candles. 

Thousands gathered at the historic downtown Catholic cathedral December 12 for the feast day celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a Marian apparition who is considered the patron saint of Mexico and of the Americas. “Our Lady of Guadalupe plays a significant role in the lives of faithful in our Catholic tradition,” Bishop Edward Burns said in a press conference, and especially for the Latinx diaspora.

“For me, it is a great joy because I always identify my life and my faith in the devotion and the closeness with her,” said Jesús Belmontes, Cathedral Guadalupe’s rector and who emigrated to Dallas from Mexico around 20 years ago. 

The feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe, for whom the cathedral is named, is always a popular, packed event. It draws crowds of thousands coming to worship and leave roses at an image of the saint behind the altar. But this year has been extra special. 

Last fall the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops upgraded the 121-year-old church to a “national shrine” status because of its reach, the number of visitors, and the amount of ministrations it provides. The church is now known as National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and many came this week to celebrate the news.

On Monday evening, the church had projected the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe onto the walls of the cathedral as well. Thousands of people gathered in the courtyard, Belmontes said. Matachines, traditional Hispanic dancers in colorful costumes and large headdresses, danced and beat drums. There were “constantly people walking through, going to one door to another” of the sanctuary to pray in front of the saint’s image, which was blessed by Pope John Paul II, also considered a saint, 20 years ago. Everyone just wanted to come visit the shrine, he said, and many stayed outside the church until 2 a.m.

“It was great and spectacular,” said Belmontes. 

On Tuesday, thousands more packed into the cathedral for a 5 p.m. mass. The matachines began the service, hitting their drums at a steady beat and dancing up the aisle as congregation members took cell phone videos. Burns presided over the service, which was held predominately in Spanish. In the balcony above the pews, the choir sang hymns and carols in Spanish, accompanied by a mariachi band. At several points throughout the mass, Burns announced the national shrine news, and the cathedral’s new name, to a cheering audience. He ended with a short speech welcoming the immigrant community. “The church is your home,” he told the cheering crowd in Spanish. 

After mass, visitors and parishioners filed out of the building to watch the projection show and to listen to a special concert of bells. Inside, matachines gave another special dance performance in the sanctuary. As the evening wore on, a band of mariachis played and danced in the courtyard. Street vendors wandered with carts and trays of paletas, cotton candy, concha bread, and more. Two men dressed in mariachi costumes sat astride horses and watched over the festivities across the street. A caravan of trucks and SUVs, many of which adorned with Mexican flags and tires that flashed red and green lights, drove up Pearl Street and parked on Ross Avenue, across from the cathedral. They blasted “Las Apariciones Guadalupanas,” a feast day carol, from their stereos. 

In the middle of the crowds, dozens of matachines danced in a circle as drummers beat their instruments fervently. The dancers of all ages wore face paint and bell and cymbal-spangled vests. Some carried statues and effigies of the Virgin of Guadalupe, some carried maracas or Mexican flags. Some held their babies, too small to walk themselves and whose headdresses fell over their eyes, in their arms or on their shoulders as they danced. 

“She’s like my mom, my Big Mom,” said Maria Ortiz, one of the evening’s dancers, of the significance the Virgin of Guadalupe has on her life. Ortiz traveled from Mexico City to perform in Dallas. For her, dancing is like saying a prayer to the saint. “This is a way I can come and say thank you with all my heart.”

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Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…
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