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Diocese of Dallas celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe and their cathedral’s elevation to national shrine

Crowds look up at the lighted projection of Our Lady of Guadalupe upon the exterior of the National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dallas on her feast day, Dec. 12, 2023. This was the first celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe since the cathedral had been elevated to a national shrine by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (OSV News photo/Michael Gresham, The Texas Catholic )

By Amy White Michael Gresham

DALLAS (OSV News) — The sounds of Marian songs cascaded down from the bell tower as projected images of San Juan Diego’s tilma and Our Lady of Guadalupe blanketed the façade of the National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas.

The scene reflected the spirit of faith, devotion and community on display Dec. 12, marking the first celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe since the cathedral had been elevated to a national shrine by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this year.

“This year, we celebrate that our cathedral has been elevated to a national shrine,” said Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns, who celebrated a vigil Mass at the cathedral on Dec. 11 for the Marian feast and a bilingual, commemorative Mass for the national shrine designation on Dec. 12. “This is our way of recognizing the faithfulness of the people of this diocese and the love we have for Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the Dallas cathedral between Dec. 11-12, honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day. This year, an even more festive atmosphere radiated from the cathedral’s plaza as mariachis serenaded the Virgin, matachines performed traditional dances in her honor and a constant flow of pilgrims made their way into the sanctuary to place flowers beneath her image on the altar.

“We have seen people who have come from around the country and also around the world,” said Bishop Burns, who initiated the process to have the cathedral elevated to a national shrine almost a year ago.

He expressed that throughout his life he has always had a special connection with Our Lady, noting that she has played a pivotal role in his own journey of faith as well as helping guide him in his ministry.

“We recognize that Our Lady of Guadalupe plays a significant role in the lives of the faithful in our Catholic tradition,” Bishop Burns said on Dec. 12. “She accompanies them on their journeys through life — their journeys of faith. With this, they seek out a national shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe so as to give thanks for her intercession to God, to give thanks for the many gifts and blessings they have received.”

Diocesan officials estimate that more than 35,000 people visited the national shrine cathedral in Dallas on the vigil and feast day, Dec. 11-12. The sanctuary was packed on Dec. 12 with hundreds in overflow seating in the Grand Salon and even more outside on the cathedral plaza.

“Be strong. Be strong in faith, and welcome to the United States,” Bishop Burns, who celebrated the Mass in Spanish, told attendees. “The church is your home, and it is an honor to be your bishop.”

In his homily at the Mass, Father Jesús Belmontes, rector of the cathedral, asked that the faithful recognize Mary as an advocate for their faith and their lives.

“Mary is our advocate who leads us in our pilgrimage of life,” Father Belmontes said. “She wants us to be focused on our savior Jesus Christ because he is the light and the way; and that is why she became the first disciple of him since he was in her womb. She wants for us to become his disciples, too.”

In gathering together to celebrate not only Our Lady’s feast but also the elevation of the Dallas cathedral, Father Belmontes urged the faithful to hear the call to evangelize.

“By being together tonight in our national shrine cathedral, we understand that we have been called to commit to be people of light, people of hope, people that know how to be light in the world and how to continue sharing our life with the one Mary brings us through her son, Jesus Christ,” he said.

For many, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an opportunity to thank the Virgin Mother for her intercession to God on behalf of the faithful.

Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns swings a censer near the altar during the celebration of a bilingual, celebratory Mass in honor of the elevation of the National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, 2023. This was the first celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe since the cathedral had been elevated to a national shrine by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (OSV News photo/Michael Gresham/The Texas Catholic)

Longtime parishioners Luis Chávez and his wife, Araceli, had been at the national shrine cathedral since Dec. 10, preparing for the feast day. His wife plays the drums for the cathedral’s matachines, which was among more than 25 different matachines groups from around the diocese dancing Dec. 11 and 12 in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day.

“Knowing that our cathedral now is a national shrine, it’s exciting and inspiring. It’s especially exciting when you are a part of all of this,” Chávez told diocesan media, which includes The Texas Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas, and Revista Católica Dallas, the diocese’s Spanish-language magazine.

A national designation has several requirements, according to the USCCB webpage on the topic, including that a shrine must be dedicated “to promoting the faith of the pilgrims by centering on a mystery of the Catholic faith, a devotion based on authentic Church tradition, revelations recognized by the Church, or the lives of those in the Church’s calendar of saints.” Bishop Burns officially announced the shrine’s national designation Oct. 3.

Blanca Segura, a parishioner of St. Edward Catholic Church in Dallas, attended the Dec. 12 festivities at the shrine wearing traditional Mexican clothing, with garments handmade by her mother. Segura is originally from Mexico but now lives in Dallas, where she attends the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration at the cathedral each year.

“It’s really important for me because when I was a little girl, my mother told me to give respect to the church for Santa Maria Guadalupe… I remember the things my mother told me. Santa Maria Guadalupe takes care of me,” Segura said, adding, “I come to pray for everybody, for my family, for my friends, for everybody.”

Danette Volkmer, the wife of Deacon Chris Volkmer, a deacon at the cathedral, said the feast day celebrations are always huge. “This is the height of the year for celebrating (Mary) and what she means as the Mother of God, Our Father.” she said. “People come from all over. It’s kind of amazing.”

The shrine, a national landmark for pilgrims, a place of deep historical, cultural and spiritual significance in the heart of the Dallas Arts District — it is also a home parish to many Catholics in north Texas.

They have walked with their parish through the historic national shrine designation, rejoicing in the change while also taking comfort in what has remained the same: a community of inclusion, connection and religious devotion.

Raquel Loera, with her husband, Jesús Loera, has been a parishioner of the cathedral since 1978, almost 50 years. The couple joined the parish only five years into their marriage. Since then, they’ve not only raised their own children within the community but also formed a different kind of family, a parish family.

“(The cathedral) is very special to us, because that’s where we started our marriage. That’s where we’re dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe for all the blessings we have received. I cannot tell you all the blessings we have received,” Loera said. “Our community, our friends have all been there for many years in different events with their children. Now, they’re older. Ours are older. We still share all the things that we have learned from our church.”

The couple witnessed the parish come together to give of time, talent and resources. Loera recalled how the cathedral parishioners joined together years ago to supply jewels for the golden crown that hangs above the Our Lady of Guadalupe image at the cathedral.

“We passed the basket for Sunday donations, and everybody was taking their rings off and putting them in the basket, their earrings off and putting them in the basket, a lot of original donated jewelry,” she recounted. “That crown that is up there, it is made from a lot of parishioners that donated that jewelry. I think that was beautiful to see the faith they had and what they wanted for Our Virgin.”

The golden crown remains in the cathedral, a demonstration of the generous and collaborative spirit of the parishioners.

“We have beautiful parishioners who are always willing to help in the different ways that we can,” Loera said. “We love it.”

To celebrate that spirit of community, Bishop Burns hosted a special reception and dinner for longtime cathedral parishioners and volunteers following the Dec. 12 celebratory Mass.

Amy White is a reporter for The Texas Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas. Michael Gresham is the editor of The Texas Catholic. Violeta Rocha, a writer for Revista Católica Dallas, the diocese’s Spanish-language magazine, and Constanza Morales, managing editor for Revista, contributed to this story.

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