Sunday, December 10, 2006

Four-Day Observance Underway

A major religious celebration of importance to all from Central America began yesterday (Saturday, Dec. 9) and will continue through Tuesday.

It is the observance of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas. New Central Jersey residents who revere the saint and want to replicate customs from their homelands will hold processions, Masses and special celebrations including singing songs overnight (Mananitas) on the feast day.

The feast commemorates the 16th century appearance of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican peasant, Juan Diego. Speaking in Nahuatl, his native language, she told him to build a church. After the bishop disbelieved him and asked for proof, the Virgin told him to gather flowers. Although it was winter, he discovered roses and bloom and brought them in his tilma, or cloak, to the bishop. Imprinted on his tilma was the image of the Virgin Mary.

For more information, read here or see this Wikipedia article.

A special Mass for the Feast of Saint Juan Diego was held at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church Saturday. Today there will be a procession starting at 10:30 a.m. in North Plainfield that will go to Library Park. At noon, the procession will resume and go to St. Mary’s for a 1:30 p.m. Mass.

At 3 p.m., there will be a reception in the school basement. After each Mass, there will also be a blessing of the new statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in a new garden in her honor.

On Monday, a procession will begin at 10:30 p.m. from 630 West Front Street to the church. At midnight there will be serenading with traditional mananitas. A 5 a.m. Mass Tuesday will be accompanied by mariachis. An 8 a.m. Mass in English and a 7 p.m. Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe will conclude the celebration.

The matter came up at City Council last week, with Chief Edward Santiago expressing concern that religious processions held on Good Friday and for this feast were getting larger and larger. He said closing off streets for hundreds of marchers was inconveniencing both motorists and NJ Transit bus traffic and the Police Division did not have the staff to handle such events.

Santiago suggested the procession should take place on the sidewalk.

While some members backed the public safety concerns, others said such occasions reflect the region’s increasing diversity and must be supported.

The Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, a minister, attorney and Plainfield resident who works with immigrants, said Saturday the observance of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very important in Central America. Although people think the Day of the Dead is a primary Mexican festival, she said, Good Friday and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe are the most important.

The fact that the appearance was to an indigenous person, not a European, is part of its importance, she said.

“It’s not just the religious significance, but it’s saying that Mexicans are just as good as everyone else,” she said.

Noting that both Human Rights Day and International Migrants Day fall during Advent, she commented, “It says a lot about the way culture and human rights are connected.”

In countries where religious processions take place, they don’t conflict with other activities because everyone is doing the same thing, she said. Processions are a way of bearing public witness to their beliefs, she said.

“Procession are part and parcel of how people commemorate,” she said, recalling being in San Salvador on March 29 when a procession took place honoring the assassinated leader Monsignor Oscar Romero.

Earlier immigrants, such as Italians whose feast day celebrations are part of New York life, held processions here as they did in their homeland.

City Clerk Laddie Wyatt said the council decided to allow the street processions this year but will take more time next year to look at options. In North Plainfield, Police Chief William Parenti said St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was told several years ago to confine processions to sidewalks to cut down on street disruption.

--Bernice Paglia


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