Tens of thousands celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe at Coliseum
Tens of thousands of believers filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe — the long-revered symbol of the Catholic Church — in an hours-long event organizers called the "largest celebration of the Virgin Mary in a generation."
The bilingual "Guadalupe Celebration" included prayer, song and traditional dance, along with remarks from Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and other religious leaders. It also featured a symbol important to the church: A half-inch scrap of the cloak upon which believers say an image of the Virgin Mother miraculously appeared.
Catholics — particularly those of Mexican descent — have long cherished Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom they believe appeared before Juan Diego on a hillside outside Mexico City in the 1500s. According to the church, a dark-skinned Mary asked the poor Indian convert to tell the local bishop she wanted a chapel built for her people.
But the bishop was not convinced, and asked for a sign that the message was in fact from the Virgin Mother.
Mary appeared again and told Juan Diego to gather roses and place them in his cloak. When he opened the tilma for the bishop, the roses fell out, revealing an image of Mary on the cloth.
The cloak is housed in Mexico City, although the half-inch piece processed through the Coliseum on Sunday is enshrined at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Known as the Tilma of Tepeyac, the fragment is believed to be the only piece of the cloak in the United States.
More than 100,000 free tickets were distributed for Sunday's celebration, organizers said, and although the 90,000-seat stadium was only about half-full, the event drew attendees from throughout Southern California and beyond.
When news spread about Sunday's celebration, Gomez said, the reaction was "unbelievable."
"It's an incredible response," he said. "As soon as we started talking about getting together for the festival for Our Lady of Guadalupe, people got really interested."
Reyna Camora, 41, came to the Coliseum from North Hollywood with three generations of her family. The group wore white T-shirts bearing a silver outline of the Virgin Mother.
They waited in line for about two hours, Camora said, but they were glad to have the opportunity to celebrate the Virgin Mary at such a large event.
"We have faith in the Virgin," Camora said. "We're so joyful to be here."
— Kate Mather
Photo: Kimberly Beltran, 10, and Rosario Beltran, 8, hug while waiting for the opening ceremony of the Guadalupe Celebration at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. The Beltran sisters were part of a large group who performed in a Matachines and Aztecas dance procession to honor the Virgin Mary. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times