OR NDO DIOCESE
FACEBOOK @FLORIDACATHOLIC Dec. 18-24, 2020
of the Florida Catholic staff
ORLANDO As hundreds of people across the diocese prepared to honor the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped traditional celebrations, reaching thousands via livestream and other creative solutions.
For more than 20 years, the community of St. Ann Parish in Haines City has celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with exultant joy. Parishioners gather each day of the novena, culminating on her honored feast day in various homes (Dec. 4-12). On Dec. 12, they pray, sing and rejoice in her honor. Al- though the pandemic changed the face of the celebration, nothing could prevent the faithful from honoring Our Lady. Father Alfonso Cely, pastor, and Dominican Father Du- berney Rodas invited people "to connect" via livestream on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The online novena had 1,000 views, reaching far beyond parish boundaries, and even abroad. The hour-long devotions consisted of the rosary, mu- sic, reflections, prayers and "gozos," joyful verses spoken with parishioner responses."The way people are praying together now is absolutely incredible - socially distanced and spiritu- ally connected," Father Cely said. The parish hall was decorated with Our Lady's image and beautiful flowers for the livestream. Father Rodas wrote a re- flection for each day and parishioners followed with their own testimonies of what the Virgin means to them. Because they cannot gather in large numbers, parishioners were also invited to set up altars at home and to send in photos of them. Images poured in. At the end of the novena, Father Cely surprised families and awarded prizes for the top three most beautiful altars. Due to the pandemic, the feast day celebration was modi- fied with Maanitas Mass at 5 a.m. with a mariachi band, all livestreamed. Families prayed outside in the garden near a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe while volunteers helped maintain safety protocols. One thousand roses adorned the sanctuary, recalling the roses in Juan Diego's tilma that ulti- mately revealed the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. To see this community and see the devotion they have is incredible for me," Father Cely said. "It is an explosion of joy. If on the day of celebration, I don't become Guadalupano , then I'm dead because they inject the energy needed to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe very well."
Rather than the usual procession to the Lake Eola Amphi- theatre for the re-enactment of the miracle in Tepeyac, Mexi- co, Lisette Saint-Hilaire and her Guadalupe staff coordinated a caravan of 55 cars, from Good Shepherd Parish to St. James Cathedral in Orlando with the help of various organizations around the diocese. Led by a large wooden cross and a statue of Our Lady, the caravan processed through Orlando streets while the faithful prayed the rosary and evangelized with their presence. Father Miguel Gonzlez, rector of the cathedral, ex- plained the procession was a way of keeping the tradition of the feast day celebration alive. Beginning just before 4 p.m., Dec. 12, the event was facili- tated by several parish Emmaus organizations and a brigade of volunteers, including traffic coordinator Adrian Gonzlez, Fa- ther Gonzlez's brother. The 4.5-mile journey to St. James Ca- thedral took little more than 30 minutes making its way along Semoran Blvd., Lake Underhill and Rosalind Ave. Turning onto Court Street, a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe greeted the pilgrims. The crowds offered flowers to the Virgin, harking to the miracle of Tepeyac, when the famous image appeared on Juan Diego's tilma . Standing to offer them a benediction with the Blessed Sacrament was Deacon Luis Abreu of St. John Vianney Parish and Father Gonzlez. "This is something very special," Saint-Hilaire said. "We wanted to take to the streets as a reminder of Mary's words, 'Am I, your mother, not here?' Especially this year. No matter how difficult the challenge, she is there." Saint-Hilaire reflected on the similarities of the cara- van's journey to the cathedral where they found Jesus in the benediction. "Isn't that the role of Our Lady, to bring us to her son?" Saint-Hilaire and her brother, Fernando Aveitua, partici- pated in the representations of the miracle of Tepeyac in their homeland as teenagers for a decade, as Mary and Juan Diego, until her brother died after being hit by a car. Saint-Hilaire's parents, Magdalena and Javier Aveitua, helped direct traffic and her sister, Luca, helped promote the event. Magdalena said, "It is very gratifying. There are no words to describe a daughter who gives her all for Our Lord and Lady so that others can honor Mary and maintain this tradi- tion- It sustains me as a mother." Among those in the procession was Francisco Vasquez and his three children. Vazquez strengthened his devotion to the Virgin just before his daughter was born. The St. Isaac Jogues parishioner originally from Guanajuato, Mexico said he plead- ed Our Lady and her Son help deliver a healthy child. When his daughter was born, she was named Guadalupe after Our Blessed Mother. He said, "I see her as an intercessor for each of us." His daughter added, "I see her as an inspiration for my life. I have a lot of love for her." Father Gonzlez noted, "It's a very appropriate way to honor Our Lady and not put behind us a beautiful tradition because of the (COVID) virus. It's another proof that the faith of the peo- ple can overcome any obstacles that come our way."
Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations
Top, a caravan of 55 cars traveled from Good Shepherd to St. James Cathedral to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. Below, St. Ann Parish in Haines city parishioners celebrate a virtual novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Due to COVID restrictions, parishioners prayed from home. Encouraged by pastor, Father Alfonso Cely, many created altars at home for Our Lady like the one pictured below. Click HERE or on the inset icon to view the video. (COURTESY PHOTOS)Next Page