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Patroness of the Americas

Citizen Staff

Tucsonans believe the Mexican saint has blessed them

By GABRIELA RICO

grico@tucsoncitizen.com

For the past 33 years, Catalina Riesgo has faithfully spent nine December days venerating Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas.

The 80-year-old Tucsonan and hundreds of other Catholic believers say a nine-day novena, sing traditional songs and pray the rosary in honor of the most beloved spiritual figure to the Mexican people.

Riesgo’s husband returned safely from World War II, as did her son from Vietnam. For this she credits the Virgin’s intervention, and she says she will continue to fall to her knees in prayer as long as she lives. “She returned them to me,” Riesgo says. “Anything I need I have always asked of her and she has delivered.”

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, and all around Tucson believers spent the evening in prayerful vigil honoring the Virgin Mother whether for a prayer answered or in anticipation of one.

Ruben Davalos, director of evangelism and Hispanic ministry with the Diocese of Tucson, says the traditions surrounding Our Lady of Guadalupe cement Mexican families in the United States.

“We have had that in common since we were in the womb,” Davalos says. “It is a moment of community for Hispanic people.”

In Mexico City, where the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits on the spot where she appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531, thousands of people gathered last night to bring her roses and sing Las MaƱanitas.

Traditionally, the novena begins Dec. 3, and each night a different passage is read, leading up to the eve of the Virgin’s apparition, when family and friends gather for tamales, menudo and Mexican hot chocolate.

For 23 years, Riesgo was the president of La Guadalupanas at St. Margaret’s Catholic Church, a group of women who led parishioners in prayer and devotion to the blessed mother.

After a mild heart attack 10 years ago, Riesgo’s outside activities were restricted, but she continues her ritual at home.

Two brothers she met in her West Side neighborhood created the 4-foot statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe for Riesgo while they were in prison.

“They asked me to pray for them,” she recalls.

When the brothers were released, they presented her with the statue as a thank you.

“She is very miraculous,” Riesgo says of the Virgin.

In fact, when her third-born son was in a work accident in Illinois several years ago, Riesgo flew out there, in tears the whole way, praying to Our Lady of Guadalupe to protect him, she says.

“He had serious head injuries, and for a whole month I prayed to the Virgin,” she says of 53-year-old Jaime. “I came back to Tucson with him and was told (by doctors) he would never recover.”

Riesgo ignored the gloomy predictions and continued her twice-daily recitation of the rosary.

One night, she recalls, her son walked away from the rehabilitation hospital and showed up at her front door.

“He’s been with me ever since,” Riesgo says.

And so she continues, as do many who believe in the power of Our Lady’s intervention, and makes financial sacrifices to buy the roses, make the menudo and prepare goodies for anyone who may join her for the evening ritual.

“I will be here until the end,” Riesgo says, “or until I can’t kneel anymore.”

PHOTO CAPTIONS: Photos by FRANCISCO MEDINA/Tucson Citizen

Jose Ramon Duran plays his bass guitar with his group, La Buena Nueva, as musicians walk in the procession for the Virgin last night.

ABOVE: More than 300 people attended the procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. John’s Church that started along Ajo Way. LEFT: Catalina Riesgo prays to the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe made by two brothers who were in prison.

A parishioner stops to pray at the statue of the Virgin before last night’s procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. John’s Church.

Hundreds attended the procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. John’s Church last night. Dec. 12 is the feast day for the Mexican saint, who probably is the most venerated saint among Hispanic Catholics.

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