Guadalupe major feast day at Cristo Rey High School

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, December 19, 2019

Above, Cristo Rey High School senior Jaime Barraza Pizano portrays Juan Diego in a play Dec. 12, 2019. The school celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a Mass, singing, dancing and food. (Denise Duriga/Chicago Catholic)

More than 1,200 people gathered before the sun came up Dec. 12 in the gym at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, 1852 W. 22nd Place, for the 24th annual feast day Mass and reenactment of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego in 1531.

The story of Juan Diego — an indigenous person, considered unimportant by the Spanish who were in power — and the Virgen de Guadalupe, assuming the appearance and dress of an Aztec princess, speaks to Latinos in the United States, who often find themselves between two worlds.

The annual feast celebration, starting with 7 a.m. Mass, “is the most important day of our school year,” according to Antonio Ortiz, who brought his two elementary-school-age children to the event. “I realize how audacious that statement may be, but the Mass, student-led dramatization and parent-led post-celebration — complete with tamales and mariachi music — speaks most clearly to who we are as a community of faith.”

The school was founded nearly a quarter-century ago to provide a Catholic college preparatory education and professional work experience to students from Spanish-speaking families who have limited means. Most of each student’s tuition is paid for by the work they do at school-sponsored jobs one day a week.

That’s one reason the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass is always early in the morning: When it was over, students who work instead of going to classes on Thursdays were dismissed to their buses to go to their jobs.

The other reason is that most of Juan Diego’s interactions with the Virgen took place in the early morning, starting on Dec. 9, as he was walking to Mass and religious education. She appeared at Tepeyac and told him to approach the bishop and tell him that she wanted the bishop to build a chapel on the hill.

After the bishop demurred, she told Juan Diego to ask again Dec. 10. This time, the bishop said he wanted the lady to provide a sign. But Juan Diego missed his Dec. 11 appointment with the Virgen to receive the sign, because he was caring for his uncle, who was near death. The following day, Dec. 12, in a hurry to fetch a priest to administer last rites to his uncle and ashamed of not coming the day before, he took a different route around the hill.

The Virgen again intercepted him and gently chided him for his avoidance. Then she told him his uncle had been healed, and made Spanish roses grow on the barren hill in December. She told Juan Diego to collect the roses in his cloak, or “tilma,” and take them to the bishop as a sign.

When Juan Diego opened his tilma at the bishop’s residence, the roses fell to the floor, revealing an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe on the tilma. That image is on display almost 500 years later in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and reproductions of it hang in homes and churches around the world.

In his homily at Mass, Conventual Franciscan Father Vito Martinez, associate pastor of St. Clare de Montefalco Parish, 5443 S. Washtenaw Ave., talked about being the American-born grandchild of Mexican migrant workers, and how the image of the Virgen helped him feel connected to his family and to his faith, especially when he spent summers in Iowa with relatives who were working with migrant workers. He didn’t fit with the people in town, where there were no paletas or churros, or with the workers’ children, who made fun of his lack of Spanish.

Looking at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe assured him that “God understood what I was going through, that sometimes people live in two worlds, and they don’t always fit in. … When the world tells people that they are criminals, are illegal, when this world tries to take their very humanity, the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe is that God is with us.”

That message came through for Cristo Rey senior Jaime Barraza Pizano, who portrayed Juan Diego in the reenactment of the saint’s encounters with the Virgen and with the bishop. A teacher told him that he should have a one-word description of the emotion Juan Diego was feeling for each line or action.

His word for being turned away from the bishop while the servants laughed was “defeated,” said Barraza, who has wanted to play the role Jan Diego since he was a freshman.

“Playing this role helped me see that even when you are defeated or people aren’t listening, you can still have her support and protection,” said Barraza, who is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Mount in Cicero.

Emily Rodriguez, who portrayed the Virgen, said she tried to get out of her comfort zone a little bit. While performing in front of the school’s nearly 600 students and even more parents, alumni and supporters was nerve-wracking, the familiarity of the story helped.

But it also deepened her own faith, said Rodriguez, a parishioner at St. Pius V, 1901 S. Ashland Ave.

“It made me realize how important Our Lady of Guadalupe is,” she said.


  • catholic schools
  • our lady of guadalupe
  • cristo rey jesuit high school

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