Coming together in spirit, Catholics this week observed a significant religious event that took place nearly five centuries ago. Traditional festivities with Aztec dancers and mariachi performances in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe began over the weekend, including at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries in Glendale, which held its first Virgen de Guadalupe celebration on Dec. 9.
The Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, observed on Dec. 12, marks the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary, believed by Catholics to be the mother of Jesus Christ, to Juan Diego, a native, in 1531. During her apparition she asked to be known as the Virgin of Guadalupe and for a church to be built so she could be close to her people, according to religious leaders.
As the story goes, to prove her identity she told Juan Diego to gather flowers in his cloak, the same cloak which later revealed her image and is now framed and hanging in a shrine located at the Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe helped convert nearly 8 million natives in a span of just seven years, said Father Julio Roman last Sunday at the Forest Lawn observance and commemoration. The facility is located on Glendale Avenue, bordering Glassell Park.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Creyentes en Los Ángeles Celebran a ‘La Guadalupana’ 
On display during Forest Lawn’s event was a finely detailed mosaic depicting the Virgen de Guadalupe that will soon be installed on a hill at the facility so as to be visible to commuters, said Rodolfo Saenz, senior vice president of marketing for Forest Lawn. A replica of the same mosaic will also be on display at the Long Beach Forest Lawn, and possibly at the Covina Hills site, he added.
La Guadalupana, as she is affectionately known, is also known as the Queen of Mexico and was proclaimed the Patroness of the Americas, Empress of Latin America and Protectress of Unborn Children by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Mexico in 1999, Father Roman said.
Forest Lawn has for decades held community-focused events like the annual Memorial Day events that are currently hosted at several Forest Lawn locations in Southern California, according to Saenz. In addition to patriotic and religious observations, Forest Lawn also holds cultural events such as Día de los Muertos.
Just as the Día de Los Muertos event began at one location, growing to now include three locations, the Guadalupe Celebration is also expected to expand, Saenz said.
“The Celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a reflection of the community we serve,” said Saenz, explaining the celebration is the “main [religious holiday] event” in Mexico.
While attendees at the Guadalupe celebration were primarily Latino Catholics, Sunday’s bilingual, non-denominational event was open to everyone and included an educational component to explain the celebration to other segments of the population, he said. The growing popularity of the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe also lends itself to become multicultural as it becomes more and more attractive to other segments of the population, he added.
As a non-profit organization, part of Forest Lawn’s mission is to bring these types of events to the community, Saenz told EGP.
Luis Sanchez, 68, and several of his neighbors traveled from Sylmar to attend the event.
“For it being their first time [hosting this event], it was really nice,” Sanchez told EGP in Spanish. Sanchez said he also planned to attend a midnight mass at his local parish.
Sanchez said he appreciates that Forest Lawn is reaching out to the Latino community, noting he was invited to attend the event by a neighbor who works at Forest Lawn.
Elena Contreras and her mother, both residents of Boyle Heights, also attended the celebration.
“I thought it was really nice. It’s nice that they are catering to the Hispanic community,” Contreras said. “I was also surprised to know that their rates at the cemetery are a lot less expensive than most cemeteries. ”
Like Sanchez, Contreras planned to attend her local parish, Our Lady of Talpa, for the traditional midnight mass, but added she wants to return to Forest Lawn to see the free Picasso, exhibit at their museum.
Forest Lawns’ next community event will celebrate Martin Luther King on July 13 in Hollywood Hills.
For more information Forest Lawn events, locations and services visit http://www.forestlawn.com/