A cherished Marian feast is expected to draw more than 1,200 this weekend, with many traveling several miles on foot from throughout the city.

Archbishop Nelson Pérez will be the principal celebrant and homilist at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s annual Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an apparition of Mary in 16th-century Mexico.

The liturgy will take place Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, with Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Edward Deliman — who oversees ministry to the archdiocesan Hispanic Catholic community – and priests in the Hispanic Apostolate concelebrating. The Hispanic Choir of Philadelphia, under the direction of composer Damaris Thillet, will provide music at the Mass.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared the patroness of Mexico by Pope Benedict XIV, and formally named patroness of the Americas and of the New Evangelization by St. John Paul II, who established her feast day as Dec. 12. Because she appeared as a pregnant woman, Our Lady of Guadalupe is also regarded as a patroness of the unborn.

This year, the date of her feast coincides with the Third Sunday of Advent, so diocesan bishops are permitted to make alternative provisions for marking the occasion — and area faithful are gearing up for the Peregrinación Guadalupana, the pre-Mass procession in which participants walk to the Cathedral from various parishes, bearing images of Our Lady of Guadalupe while reciting the rosary, singing hymns and traditional music, and often wearing native attire.

For those of Mexican heritage, the peregrinación is “reminiscent of home,” said Sister of St. Joseph Linda Lukiewski, director of Hispanic ministry at Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe is the ‘It Girl,’” said Sister Linda. “She’s everything: a mother, a companion and a protector, someone who really advocates for them.”

Sister Linda attributed such deep devotion to the nature of the Guadalupe apparition. In 1531, Mary appeared several times in what is now Mexico City to Juan Diego, an Indigenous Chichimeca peasant and Christian convert. Manifesting herself as a mestiza, with Indigenous and European features, she spoke in the Nahuatl language and identified herself as “the one who crushes the serpent” – a phrase that Spanish missionary friars translated as “Guadalupe.”

“She appeared as an Indigenous woman, a poor and oppressed person,” said Sister Linda. “And that has had such an impact.”

Dressed as St. Juan Diego, little Diego Rivera attends a Dec. 11, 2019 vigil Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe along with his mother Moreno of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Philadelphia. (Sarah Webb)

Diego (who prior to his baptism had been called Cuauhtlatohuac) was disbelieved when he reported the initial Dec. 9 vision to the bishop, Juan de Zumarraga. In response to the bishop’s request for a sign of the apparition’s authenticity, Mary provided Diego with a several blooming roses, which he carried in his tilma, or cape. As Diego opened its folds to present the flowers to the bishop, an image of the apparition was found mysteriously impressed upon the fabric.

The Guadalupe apparition was approved by the Catholic Church in 1555, and Juan Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Scientists remain unclear as to how the original Guadalupe image, now housed at the National Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe in Mexico City, was created, or how it has remained unfaded and intact after almost 500 years.

Equally enduring is the love faithful have for the woman depicted on the tilma, said Sister Linda.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe is such an advocate,” she said. “So many look to her, and it’s so powerful.”

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The schedule for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration on Dec. 11 is as follows:

4 p.m. – Parishioners from St. Veronica Parish and St. Hugh of Cluny Worship Site will process on foot departing from St. Hugh of Cluny at the northern western corner of Howard and Tioga Streets, Philadelphia, heading west on Tioga Street, south on 2nd Street, turning right on Spring Garden Avenue, and left onto 17th Street. Expected arrival time at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul is 8 p.m.

4:30 p.m. – Parishioners will depart from Visitation B.V.M. Parish (B Street and Lehigh Avenue, Philadelphia), heading west on Lehigh Ave., south on 2nd Street, turning right on Spring Garden Avenue, and left onto 17th Street. The procession will pick up parishioners from St. Michael Parish at 2nd and Jefferson Streets around 6:30 p.m. Expected arrival time at the Cathedral is 8 p.m.

5:30 p.m. – Parishioners from Holy Innocents Parish will depart from its worship site, St. Joan of Arc Church (2025 E. Atlantic Street, Philadelphia), walking down Frankford Avenue to Tioga Street. Expected arrival time at the Cathedral is 7:45 p.m.

6:30 p.m. – Parishioners from Visitation B.V.M. Parish will meet parishioners from St. Michael Parish at 2nd and Jefferson Streets and continue to the Cathedral. Expected arrival time at the Cathedral is 8 p.m.

7 p.m. – Parishioners from Sacred Heart, Annunciation B.V.M. and St. Thomas Parishes will depart from St. Thomas Aquinas Parish (1719 Morris Street, Philadelphia) to the Cathedral by heading north on 18th Street.   Expected arrival time at the Cathedral is 8 p.m.

7-8 p.m. – Projected arrival of all groups at the Cathedral.

8:30 p.m. – Opening procession for the Mass with statues and images of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

9 p.m. – Mass