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Faith and Fiesta

Faith and Fiesta

By SCM Staff

Citlalcuauhtli Cynthia Montiel dances outside the Mission. View full image. Photo by Charles Barry
“The way we pray”: SCU and Sacred Heart celebrate 20 years of La Virgen at the Mission Church. 

Faith & Fiesta, community and culture, religion and retelling—all converge in celebration of La Virgen del Tepeyac (Our Lady of Guadalupe), a tradition at Santa Clara for two decades. The patron saint of Mexico and a cultural icon throughout the Americas, La Virgen represents a spiritual blending of Spanish and Aztec heritage, owing to her miraculous apparition to the indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531.

It starts with drums, darkness, and incense. The heartbeat of a people, suffering but resilient. Latino Catholicism is experienced through the five senses, María del Socorro Castañeda-Liles ’98 says, and it’s on full display during La Virgen del Tepeyac at the Mission Church. Through colorful costume, dance, and song—both painful and triumphant—the community claims relevance: We belong here.

It started with a dream. Fr. Mateo Sheedy led Sacred Heart Parish, with a church a few miles from the University but worlds away in opportunity in the 1990s. Members of Sacred Heart didn’t always finish high school, few attended four-year college, and fewer enrolled at Santa Clara.

Castañeda-Liles, now a professor in religious studies at SCU, was a member of Teatro Corazón (the Sacred Parish theatre group) while a senior at SCU. She sought to bridge the gap by moving the Sacred Heart’s re-enactment of La Virgen to the Mission. Initially she was told no, the Mission was not for performances. Fr. Sheedy reminded her that Flor y Canto (flower and song) was not a performance: “This is the way that we pray,” he said.

Castañeda-Liles, now a professor in religious studies at SCU, was a member of Teatro Corazón (the Sacred Parish theatre group) while a senior at SCU. She sought to bridge the gap by moving the Sacred Heart’s re-enactment of La Virgen to the Mission. Initially she was told no, the Mission was not for performances. Fr. Sheedy reminded her that Flor y Canto (flower and song) was not a performance: “This is the way that we pray,” he said.

With lobbying by Fr. Sheedy, Eastside Project director Pia Moriarty, and Ana Maria Piñeda, who taught a class on Our Lady of Guadalupe, the University was convinced—and La Virgen became a Santa Clara tradition. Following the inaugural performance in 1997, thenprovost Stephen Privett, S.J., M.Div. ’72 was so moved by the ceremony that he declared that SCU would establish a full four-year scholarship for one student per year from Sacred Heart. This was Fr. Sheedy’s dream realized. The first San Juan Diego scholarship was awarded in 2001. Recipients have gone on to graduate study and to practice law, and several work at Santa Clara.

The events honoring La Virgen de Tepeyac at Santa Clara is just a morsel of the global celebration. On the days leading up to Dec. 12, the pilgrimage to Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe begins. Built at Tepeyac Hill, the church is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. Here is where La Virgen’s likeness appeared upon Juan Diego's tilma (or cloak)—and the sacred mantle is said to be kept. Here too is where the Aztec temple built to honor “Mother Earth” goddess Tonantzin once stood.

Throughout Latin America, Catholics attend a special Mass, light candles, and decorate tables with vibrant flowers. These gatherings include recitation of the prayer to La Virgen, written by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1979, asking the “Mother of the Americas” lead the bishops and faithful “along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls.”

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