Our Lady Of Guadalupe Celebrated In COVID Safe Way The Rev. Julio Martinez put a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the back of a pickup truck and celebrated the festival in the front yards of church members.
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Holiday On Wheels: Latino Church Gets Creative Honoring Patron Saint Despite Pandemic

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Holiday On Wheels: Latino Church Gets Creative Honoring Patron Saint Despite Pandemic

Holiday On Wheels: Latino Church Gets Creative Honoring Patron Saint Despite Pandemic

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Pope Francis celebrated mass in Rome yesterday for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is the patron saint of Mexico, and the holiday is hugely important to Catholics in that country, as well as many Latinos in the U.S. Because of the coronavirus, though, an annual pilgrimage that draws millions of people to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City was canceled, and in many places virtual services were offered instead. But in Siler City, N.C., a church serving immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Central and South America had a different solution. A priest there brought the celebration home.

NPR's Emma Peaslee has this report.

JULIO MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Spanish).

EMMA PEASLEE, BYLINE: Father Julio Martinez leads a cheer for Our Lady of Guadalupe as he stands on the back of a pickup truck in a driveway of a mobile home. A few dozen worshipers, all wearing masks, kneel in the front yard and listen to Martinez's supplications.

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PEASLEE: He asks the patron saint to safeguard the families of those present and the relatives back in their countries of origin. Normally, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe is honored in a celebration at Reverend Martinez's church, which typically starts before dawn.

MARTINEZ: Little by little, the church would be filled (laughter) - filled and filled and filled with flowers and people coming and prayers.

PEASLEE: But the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Latino population especially hard. Here in North Carolina's Chatham County, they represent one-eighth of the population but nearly half of the cases. When parishioners found out that the mass would have to be limited to 135 people, they proposed an alternative to Father Martinez.

MARTINEZ: This year, instead of the people going on pilgrimage to the mother, it is the mother who goes on pilgrimage to her people.

(LAUGHTER)

PEASLEE: Yesterday morning, Martinez hammered together a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on the back of the pickup truck. The giant portrait of Our Lady on the truck bed and the caravan of cars following it looked like a church on wheels as it went from house to house. When it arrived at Dulce Herrera's front yard, she offered a prayer of her own.

DULCE HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PEASLEE: "Our Mother, your tenderness and care gives us great faith."

Herrera has set up her own shrine to Our Lady on a table covered with a floral cloth and surrounded by flowers and lanterns. And after the ceremony, she credits Our Lady for protecting her daughter and grandchild when they were recently robbed on the highway back in Mexico.

HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PEASLEE: "They attacked my daughter, and they took her van with everything," she says. "They didn't even leave the baby's diapers or milk bottle." But she says the Holy Mother saved them.

HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PEASLEE: "Because in that part of the country, they don't leave anyone alive," she adds.

HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PEASLEE: Herrera ladles a hot chocolate-like drink called champurrado into the Styrofoam cups held by people crowding around her with tears welling in her eyes.

HERRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PEASLEE: "It gives me such a great feeling of love to have received the Holy Mother at my home."

Herrera has never missed a celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and even a pandemic wasn't able to change that.

Emma Peaslee, NPR News, Siler City, N.C.

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