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Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe carries on in Wilmington diocese with scaled-down plans due to pandemic

Bishop Malooly processes to the altar during Our Lady of Guadalupe Celebration at St. Paul Church, Dec. 12, 2016. Dialog photo/Don Blake

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, another important celebration has been affected by the restrictions put into place to help control its spread. The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which takes place on Dec. 11-12, will be more muted this year in the Diocese of Wilmington.

In normal times, the feast is among the biggest in the church’s Hispanic community, but with limited numbers of people allowed to gather for Masses and meals, it will take on a different look in various parishes. Representatives from a few of those churches said while there is disappointment, parishioners understand.

This icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in St. Mary Parish in Whiting, Ind. The image can be seen on traditional banners celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe, highlighting her widespread impact throughout this continent. (CNS photo/Laura Ieraci, Horizons)

Father John Olson, the administrator at St. Paul’s Parish in Wilmington, said the parish will have two Masses each on Dec. 11-12, one at 7 and the other at 8:30 p.m.

“We’re adding the Masses at 8:30 simply because of possible capacity restrictions,” he said. At 30 percent capacity, the church can hold more than 200 people.

After the services, people can take food home with them as they leave. Normally, they would have gathered in the church hall for a large shared meal.

St. Paul’s will have a novena leading up to the feast day beginning on Dec. 3.

At the parish with a mission church named after Our Lady, there is understanding about the need for change this year. Ricardo Jimenez, who volunteers with the Latino community at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Frankford, said the Hispanic community has been hard-hit in Sussex County.

“We have a lot of people in our community who got sick and died. This is why we canceled everything bigger,” he said.

The feast has been something to behold in previous years, he said.

“Before the pandemic, we had a different celebration. We had the mariachis. After that, we had food, and we eat together. But right now, with the pandemic, we can’t do any of that,” he said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church will host Mass on Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m., with a rosary preceding the service.

The secretary at St. John the Apostle Parish in Milford, Vivian Alvarado, said the feast is a big deal at the church.

“We always have a reception afterward, and we have dance groups. This year, we’re not allowed to have that because they want everybody to be safe,” she said.

St. John the Apostle will host a rosary at 9 p.m. on Dec. 11. The next day, there is a rosary at 6:30 p.m., followed by Mass. Reservations are required for attendance. The Dec. 12 rosary and Mass will be available on Facebook Live.

Alvarado said the parish’s Guadalupe celebration usually draws a large crowd from a wide geographic area. St. John the Apostle is the only parish between Dover and Georgetown. Its mission, St. Bernadette, is in nearby Harrington.

At St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Wilmington, a novena will begin on Dec. 3 and will be held each night at 7 at the church. It will include a bilingual recitation of the rosary and reflections led by members of the parish, according to Yolanda Torres-Ward, the coordinator of religious education. On Dec. 12, there will be Las Mañanitas – Spanish morning songs to Our Lady – at 5 a.m., and a Mass in Spanish at 5 p.m. All events require advance registration. They will not be livestreamed.

Father Olson has been at St. Paul’s for a few months, and in that time he has learned about the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“It’s part of their history, their culture, their religion, everything,” he said. “But it’s not just for Mexicans. Various popes have declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas. So anyone who has been born in either the northern or southern hemisphere has her as our patroness, which is something truly wonderful.”

He called Our Lady “a uniter” who brings together people of different languages, ethnicities and backgrounds. Her importance to the church was made evident more than 40 years ago in a significant fashion.

“It’s important to remember that John Paul II, when he became pope, that was the very first out-of-Italy trip he took. He went to Mexico in 1979 to visit the shrine in Mexico City,” Father Olson said.

Jimenez said the principal goal this year is to make sure everyone remains healthy. “We have time for celebrating, maybe next year.”