By Violeta Rocha
Special to The Texas Catholic
Traditionally, Mexican grandmothers have been responsible for passing on to future generations one of the most fundamental pillars of Catholic faith in Hispanic culture: the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
But the migrant experience that defines the reality of Mexican -American families in areas like North Texas has placed this responsibility in the hands of mothers and young women dedicated to Hispanic ministry.
In the Diocese of Dallas, where the faithful are predominantly Hispanic and the vast majority of this community traces its roots and religious traditions back to Mexico, the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe is palpable each year in December.
The height of this devotion arrives at midnight on Dec. 12. Yet prayers, novenas and dances in honor of the Mother of the Americas start to occur in the early days of the month. These celebrations bring together families and are increasingly led by more and more mothers and young women.
“Whenever they’re involved, they bring their children along,” said María Ángela Quiñones, coordinator of Danza de Matachines at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church. “In the 25 years that I’ve spent serving in this ministry, I’ve seen mothers that have brought their children and have returned with their grandchildren.”
Quiñones said that, contrary to when she grew up, today“mothers have a more tangible and striking devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe due to the greater need for God that our world faces.”
“They need to lead by example so they can motivate their children to carry on with the devotion. And by participating, its plain to see that the youth has a more profound thirst for God.”
Taking a cue from the grandmothers of yesterday, young Hispanic women throughout Dallas have begun to take a more active role in the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The Texas Catholic’s sister publication, Revista Católica Dallas, recently shared some of the testimonials that show how these women have become the “new Guadalupanas.”
Mothers and daughters
Berenice and Samantha Tovar never thought that the pain they felt two years ago when their mother died would give way to one of the happiest and most spiritually enriching times of their lives.
In 2015, motivated by the great devotion of Socorro Tovar, the sisters decided to establish the Danza Matachines de Socorro at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish .
“My mother always said that she would like us to start a matachines dance group,” said Berenice Tovar, the group’s coordinator.
Danza Matachines de Socorro currently has 25 members: 18 women, three men, two male teenagers and two children.
“We were raised close to our faith; my mom always took us to church and always devoted herself to the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Samantha Tovar, who gave birth to her first child a few weeks ago and is determined to dance on Dec. 12.
“Being a Guadalupana is the most beautiful thing I can do to celebrate my faith,” she said. “The nahuilla (skirt) that I wear represents the cloak bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that San Juan Diego showed to Archbishop Zumárraga. By wearing it, we also show the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
As a tribute to their late mother, the Tovar sisters chose the name “Socorro” for their matachines group. They both see their ministry as an important means to bring young women closer to God through the Virgin of Guadalupe.
“By dancing, these women are passing on the love for the Virgin of Guadalupe to their sisters, friends and other women in the community,” Berenice Tovar said.
“Even though my mother isn’t here physically, I feel that she is with us because I can bear testimony of what she taught me and that’s something beautiful that other people can see,” she said.
“This ministry is not simply a dance, because by dancing for the Virgin of Guadalupe, we are worshipping God.”
This year, Dominique Chávez, 16, will dance alongside Berenice and Samantha for the first time. Like the Tovar sisters, her devotion to the the Virgin of Guadalupe is a product of her mother’s influence.
“I can see how devoted my mother is and I feel that, thanks to her influence, I will love the Virgin even more”, said Chávez, who has served her parish as an altar server and a member of the parochial choir.
Her mother, Erinda Chávez, was born in Texas 38 years ago and, in her youth, she used to dance with the matachines whenever she visited Mexico, her mother’s native land.
“Seeing my daughter dance brings tears of joy to my eyes,” Chávez said. “This is the fruit of all my prayers to the Virgin of Guadalupe. I have asked ask her to keep my family close to the church and her heart.”
Among all the things she values of her experience as a member of Danza Matachines de Socorro, Dominique Chávez said the head scarf she wears is her most treasured possession.
It shows a luminous light surrounding Our Lady of Guadalupe and her eyes looking down with humility and compassion.
Every time she is getting ready to dance, Dominique Chávez looks to her head scarf with pride and devotion. Just like her mother does.
“This is the best symbol of the great faith I have for the Virgin of Guadalupe”, she said.
Gratitude and tradition
The devotion Martha González, 35, has for the Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most valued memories she has of her childhood in Zacatecas, México.
She arrived in North Texas when she was 6 and since has committed herself to never forgetting the prayers and devotions her grandmother taught her while growing up in Mexico.
Every December, González, the marriage ministry coordinator of St. Monica Catholic Church, prays the novena and on the night of Dec. 11 goes to the special Mass to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe’s feast.
She stays up until early morning to be able to sing Las Mañanitas, a traditional Mexican birthday song that people in Mexico sing to the honor of their patroness on her special day.
However, it is the tradition of Reliquias de Zacatecas that González learned with her mother and grandmother that keeps her Guadalupana devotion alive.
Reliquias is a tradition of people from Zacatecas. Devotees offer food in abundance to the pilgrims who have come to pray the rosary on Guadalupe’s Feast.
Families share hearty soups, rice, beans, roasted meats and tortillas, among other foods.
In her home in Dallas, González tries to keep alive the tradition, sharing it with her younger brothers and small nephews.
“I want to be a great woman like the Virgin Mary,” she said. “I have full confidence that it is through her intercession that God has heard me.”
Cultivating a strong faith
Citlali Catarino, 32, left her native Hidalgo in Mexico at the age of 13 and has never stopped wanting to know more about the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
When she left Mexico, she promised to maintain the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe that was cultivated by her father.
Today, she leads the Ministerio de Evangelización Guadalupana at St. Monica Catholic Church.
Just recently the ministry celebrated the first Congreso Guadalupano in the Diocese of Dallas. About 300 people attended from several predominantly Hispanic parishes.
“Being a Guadalupana enhances my culture and faith traditions,” she said. “It enhances the pride we all feel knowing that the Virgin Mary chose Mexico to reveal herself and teach us her love.”.
When leaving Mexico, Catarino promised to maintain the Guadalupan devotion. She completed three online courses offered by St. Monica parish under the guidance of Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, postulator of the sanctity cause of San Juan Diego.
But the desire to become a better-educated Guadalupana, prompted Catarino to pursue a certification in Biblical Studies at the School of Ministry at the University of Dallas in Irving.
“The message of love that María de Guadalupe left us is powerful and it is a great responsibility to spread that message among our community and families,” she said.
Since October Gonzalez has engaged in praying the Guadalupan rosary which was developed by Msgr. Chávez and narrates the Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“It is the Virgin of Guadalupe who guides us on this path to better know Jesus through her,” Catarino said.
A version of this story will appear in the December edition of Revista Catolica Dallas, the Diocese of Dallas Spanish-language magazine.