Photo / Los Angeles Archdiocese

Procession in East Los Angeles.

Seferino Gamboa walks near the brightly painted mural, kneels and places a bouquet of red roses. He says a short prayer and walks away. 

Gamboa, a native of Sinaloa, Mexico is a devout “Guadalupano.” He is viewing the mural that depicts the Virgin of Guadalupe with the Indian and Saint Juan Diego knelt before her, a revered image that is said to have appeared in the Tepeyac Hill of Mexico City in 1531.

“As a Mexican, I was born with devotion to the Virgin,” says the 58-year-old maintenance worker.

The mural is located at the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Tamarack Avenue — in the middle of what is commonly referred to as the “mural mile” — and  people will come by the next couple of weeks to pay respects.

The Catholic Church, on Dec. 12,  commemorates the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is said to have left her image imprinted on Juan Diego’s  tilma (cloak) as a miracle for ecclesiastical authorities who doubted he was telling the truth.

Five centuries later, the tilma is still on display at the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City. Millions of people visit throughout the year, thousands on her feast day.

Gamboa believes in those apparitions.  For him, the Virgin of Guadalupe is not only his protector, but also represents home.

“She’s half our country,” he notes, in reference to the strong devotion in his native land where she is often referred to as “Queen of Mexico.”

“Even if one is far (from home) you have to carry her with you,” said Gamboa, who leaves flowers for Our Lady every time he can.

He’ll try to go to church if he can on Dec.12. If not, he’ll still try to say a few prayers. That’s what is expected, he says.

Thousands of other immigrants like Gamboa plan to do the same.

A Procession of Devotion

More than 30,000 faithful from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties marched down East Los Angeles streets this past weekend in the 86th annual procession and mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The procession began at Cesar Chavez Avenue and the 710 freeway, followed by an outdoor Mass celebrated by Archbishop José H. Gomez at East LA College Stadium.

“In this procession today, our Mother leads us to this stadium to worship — to the encounter with her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ,” Gomez said. “And that is the destination, the purpose of this journey we call life. To find God, to find Jesus!

“This is the beautiful role that Our Mother plays. She guides us always into the presence of her Son, into the new encounter with Jesus Christ. So today, we profess our love for Our Mother. We thank her for her tender love for us — for our children and our families. We give our hearts to the Virgin of Guadalupe and we ask her to always intercede for us, to hear us and pray for us.”

The mile-long route of the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles included colorful floats, equestrian groups, mariachis and indigenous dancers. Catholic school students escorted La Peregrina, the official Archdiocesan pilgrim image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which has been blessed and touched to the original image.

Rolando Portillo, a longtime Guadalupano leader at Our Lady of Solitude Church in East LA, received special recognition for his support to the local community and an orphanage in Mexico during the mass. A DACA recipient, and a survivor of the recent Las Vegas shooting were among the lectors.

“I thank her every day for watching over us. She is the True Mother, a real protector. She brought me back to Jesus Christ when I was an addict running the streets 30 years ago,” said Portillo, an East LA resident for more than four decades.

Not just a “Mexican thing”

Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is not exclusive to Mexico. Many other immigrants have adopted it as well.

Milagro Flores is a Salvadoran member of the Guadalupe Society at Sylmar’s St. Didacus church, a group that helped organize this week’s festivities including nightly rosary prayers and snacks for the hundreds of people who show up for them.

Flores says she was a devout Lady of Peace follower in her country. But when she married her husband, Juan Carlos Flores (a Guadalupano), she became one as well.

“She has made a lot of miracles for us. It’s been proven,” Flores said.

She says daily prayers until Dec. 12, when they spend all day at church to say “thanks for everything she gives us throughout the year.”

The day begins early, with the traditional mañanitas at 4 a.m. followed by a mass at 5 a.m. at St. Didacus. A Rosary and Mass will be held starting at 6 p.m. It’s the same at Santa Rosa Catholic Church in San Fernando.