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My loving tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe


I am a person who does not like crowds, so you would think that attending the Feast Day celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on December 12 would be something I would avoid at all costs.  After all, well over one million (some estimates say 5 million) people pack the shrine on the Feast Day.  And yet I have always relished the times that I have been blessed to attend.

Join me as I reminisce about my first visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. On the evening prior to the Feast Day, those of us in our tour group who were more adventuresome decided to taxi to the Basilica. Traditionally many famous Mexican singers, performers and high ranking politicians show up for the festivities that start around 10:00 p.m. This lovely tribute goes on deep into the night and the love songs (Las Mananitas”) sung to Our Lady and the devotion the locals show for her is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  These are memories I’ll hold deep in my heart forever.

On the Feast Day itself (December 12th) we excitedly boarded our tour bus to take us to the Basilica.   But what a surprise was waiting for us!  Buses were restricted from getting too close to the shrine and we had to be dropped off quite a few blocks from there.  At this point we walked the rest of the way….something that turned out to be a blessing.  As usual, God’s plans are better than ours.

The Feast Day is a family event..here a man brings his young child to the Basilica.
The Feast Day is a family event..here a man brings his young child to the Basilica.

As we walked along with throngs of others all headed in the same direction, we experienced a real feeling of pilgrimage; unity with our fellow Catholics.  Those alongside us were mostly Mexican pilgrims, both individuals and whole families, carrying placards of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many had walked for miles, and sometimes for days, to get here.  We passed young people rousing themselves from sleep as they had camped out overnight.  These heartwarming images help you to appreciate how universal and vibrant our Catholic Faith is.

There is more to the Shrine than just the Basilica that contains the miraculous Tilma of Juan Diego, although that is certainly the high point.  I think many of us were surprised that the grounds encompass both the new and old Basilica (now leaning as if it will fall any moment).

You can also see the room where Saint Juan Diego lived out the rest of his life after the apparitions and his simple grave.

Upon entering the grounds where the Basilica is located, we were presented with a kaleidoscope of sights.

We were greeted by descendants of those original Aztecs dancing in the ancient dress as would have been worn at the pagan festivals prior to the apparitions to Juan Diego. The dancers reverently process in to the Basilica symbolizing the shift from the old pagan religion to the new religion of Christianity that they now so enthusiastically embrace.  The colorful dancers add a festive atmosphere to the Celebration of the feast day.


But what moved me the most was that in the midst of it all was the Monastery built atop the Hill of Tepeyac (shown in the top portion of the picture on the left).  This is where Juan Diego first encountered Our Lady!  To stand in that same spot is a feeling that is hard to describe.

The climb is steep, but unlike the time of the apparitions, there are now stairs to make the climb relatively easy (remember you are at a high altitude, so go easy if you have breathing problems).

The nuns in the monastery are cloistered, so visitors are not allowed.


It might seem more like a carnival than a religious event….. because the Mexican people do not pigeon-hole their faith in to just one hour on Sundays.  It is a part of their daily life.

One of the native dancers

Faith, culture and daily life all come together in this magical land, and nowhere is that more evident than here on December 12th each year.

If you can’t make it to the Shrine on that date, try to find some of the many festivals nearby celebrating this Patroness of the Americas.  Or maybe you can catch some of the action on one of the Spanish-language TV networks (don’t even need to speak Spanish to enjoy the celebration)  or perhaps one of the Catholic TV networks such as EWTN.

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Where did the Assumption take place?

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Little is known about the life of the Blessed Mother after the death of Jesus. And, of course, most protestants only trot her out at Christmas time and then put her back in the box. But, of course, she raised Him from an infant and is revered as holy by not only Catholics but Muslims as well. In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church teaches that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.  And, of course, the Assumption is in the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. Certainly, no tomb has ever been found that claimed to hold her relics.

Possible Locations of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in to Heaven:

There are two locations that vie for recognition as the place that Mary was assumed in to heaven: Jerusalem and Ephesus..  Neither one has been approved or dis-approved by the Church.

In Jerusalem, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, there is a cave said to be the tomb of Mary.

Location of the Assumption in Jerusalem:

The earliest known traditions of the location of the assumption was Jerusalem.  It was here that Jesus was crucified, it was her that Mary was protected by the disciples after the Resurrection, and it could be assumed that it was here that she died.

There is no mention of the tomb of Mary in Jerusalem prior to the end of the sixth century.  The Church of the Dormition on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem that claims to be the site of her death. Subsequently, her body was placed in the tomb down the hill at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and that tomb was later discovered to be empty.

And it is in Jerusalem that tradition places her tomb in the dormition abbey belonging to the Benedictine Order in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion just outside the walls of the Old City near the Zion Gate.

Location of the Assumption in Ephesus:

Another location that claims to be the actual site is Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey. The early Christians taught that the Apostle and Evangelist John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first century.  It was from Ephesus that he guided the Churches of that province.

There was a centuries-old tradition that Saint John went there and took Mary in to his house.  The house was in ruins and only re-discovered in October 18, 1881, by relying on the descriptions by Anne Catherine Emmerich.   Based on those description, which proved to be accurate, a French priest, the Abbé Julien Gouyet discovered a small stone building on a mountain overlooking the Aegean in Ephesus. He believed it was the house described by Emmerich and where the Virgin Mary had lived the final years of her life.

Where is the actual site of the Assumption?

Obviously, we don’t have an answer. Since scholars disagree….and we are definitely not scholars…we have to assume that the matter lies open to debate.  We welcome your input.  Just drop us an email or comment below.


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Italian-American Tradition: The Seven Fish Dinner

Origins of the Seven Fish Dinner in Italy:

We all have the mental image…mostly true…of the Italian love of cuisine.  At Christmas time there is an old Catholic tradition throughout Italy of not eating dairy or meat on the eve of some holidays, and naturally this includes Christmas Eve.

In Italy, the celebration on the 24th often includes placing the baby Jesus in a nativity scene at home and then off to church for midnight Mass. Traditionally, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is served in the early hours of the morning, after midnight Mass. Then it’s time for dessert, which may include biscotti, panforte, pandoro and panettone. Different parts of Italy tend to favor different dishes, so you won’t find the same menu items in Rome that you find in Naples.

The Seven Fish Dinner comes to the United States:

During the peak years of Italian immigration into the United States, most immigrants came from Southern Italy, where seafood is abundant and an important part of the diet. And, of course, most of these immigrants were Catholic.  No one seems to know exactly why the number seven became associated with this meal (it is apparently something added after their arrival in the U.S.) but the number seven  is a symbol that’s repeated many times throughout the Bible; and, of course, there are seven sacraments and seven deadly sins.

This holiday dinner varies by region. What you find on the plate in one city may not be the same in the next. Typical “fishes” include baccalà (salt cod), frutti di mare (shellfish), capitone (eel), calamari (squid), scungilli (conch meat) and vongole (clams). Fried vegetables are also a popular accompaniment to the fish; expect fried artichokes, pickled vegetables, fried squash blossoms, and other treats.

For many Italian-Americans the feast would include dishes such as baccalà (fried salted codfish) with a spicy caper-flecked sauce and grilled or fried eel (capitone). Other items might include calamari, linguine with anchovies, seafood salad, and shrimp.

If you’re not up to all this cooking, many major U.S. Cities have restaurants offering the seven fish dinner….and not just on the East Coast cities where many Italian immigrants landed, but just about all over….we even found some pretty good ones in Dallas, Texas!  Here is one that sounds like something we would like to try.

So check around…or just try to make up your own assortment of dishes……we don’t think there are any strict rules to the seven fish dinner……and be sure to get to some good Italian vino to add to the occasion.