As a reporter, I have covered many religious events in Los Angeles and I have witnessed several sacred moments. I felt this when I stood in the middle of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last summer. In the same place where the world’s greatest athletes twice competed for Olympic Gold, tens of thousands of people gathered to cheer on a different kind of hero — Our Lady of Guadalupe or La Virgen de Guadalupe. Devotion to her runs deep in California and in the Southwest and many people, including singer Pedro Fernandez, shared with me their stories of how their faith and prayers to her helped them-from curing illnesses to lifting them from depression. She, many told me, never disappoints. And I believe this, which is why I dedicate this post to her. The photographs below are by David McNew of the Associated Press. From my story ( Daily News, Aug. 5, 2012):
In Los Angeles, her image comforts the desperate, protects the powerless, and even deters crime.
So beloved is Our Lady of Guadalupe among Catholics, that tens of thousands of believers poured peacefully into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday to take part in what many called the city’s largest celebration in decades of the Virgin Mary.
“It is a great day for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Archbishop Jos Gomez said before the ceremony.
“It is a day to reinforce our faith, to help us recognize La Virgen de Guadalupe, who will help lead us to Jesus. In faith, we will find the solution to so many problems.”
The event was cosponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Knights of Columbus. Organizers said more than 100,000 free tickets were ordered for the event and that many began lining up at the Coliseum gates at 7 a.m. for the afternoon event, which included music and prayers.
Many dressed in tradition Mexican clothing to honor the origins of the enduring story of how the Virgin Mary appeared on a Tepeyac Hill to an indigenous man named Juan Diego in 1531 and asked him to build a church. She left her image miraculously on his cloak, or tilma, so that he could prove to the local bishop that he had indeed seen her. Because of this proof, a church was built.
News of his vision spread and millions across the continent turned to Catholicism, which is why she is also known as the Empress of the Americas.A half-inch piece of Juan Diego’s tilma, made of agave fibers, is kept enshrined at the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe is known as a messenger of unity throughout the country and in the Americas,” said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus was founded by Catholic immigrants in 1882 and spread to Mexico in 1905.
“From about the beginning, the Knights of Columbus have had an interest in Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he said.
The three-hour long celebration also featured prerecorded welcoming remarks by Dodger sportscaster Vin Scully who could be seen and heard on large screen monitors around the Coliseum.
Across the stands, the image of La Virgen could be seen on flags, banners, T-shirts and some even carried life-sized statues. Many said her image brings comfort – no matter whether seen in sacred corners of churches or spray painted on the outside walls of business to prevent tagging, whether tattooed onto arms and backs or hanging from rearview mirrors to stop car thefts.
Carlos Castillo, 25, stood outside the gates hoping to sell posters and a few framed oil paintings of La Virgen.
He said his family prayed to her as they crossed into the United States.
Since then, he has devoted his life to placing flowers each year at a nearby church, for the safe passage.
“She does a lot of miracles,” he said. “If you believe in her in your heart, what you pray for will come true.”