At Catholic Extension, we’ve seen so many inspiring Catholic communities doing so much with few resources. We’ve developed a saying to describe what we are witnessing: “Hope is happening in 3-D.”
This past weekend, I visited Stockton, for a unique event held in the community for the last 30 consecutive years: the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration. More than 12,000 people of all ages from parishes throughout the Diocese of Stockton are represented at this annual event, which includes a procession with dozens of semi-trucks hauling meticulously decorated floats that slowly make their way down the streets as parishioners sing hymns, perform traditional cultural dances in magnificently colorful costumes, or dress in character to act out scenes from the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego.
“When I first celebrated the Feast of Our Lady in the 1960s, there were only three people. Now it overwhelms me to come here today and see the thousands.”
The procession is about a mile in length and ends at the Stockton Arena, an indoor sports stadium, where approximately 10,000 faithful pack the stands for a post-procession Mass with the bishop. While Catholics have been doing processions (the precursor to the modern parade) for centuries, one of this scale is truly a sight to behold.
The most striking thing about the celebration, though, isn’t the enormous procession or arena Mass, but is, in fact, the vibrant, growing faith community the event has helped to create. For three decades, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has united the community of Stockton, enriched the faith of people and acted as a force of hope in the face of severe economic hardship and escalating crime rates in some areas. It draws people, particularly young people, into the Church.
After the event we caught up with some of the Catholic faithful who have been a part of the event for many years. The significance and growth of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration was underscored by a woman who danced in the procession in its earliest days and today watches her grandchildren participate in the event. “I’ll stand up to say this,” she said, pushing her walker away from her. “When I first celebrated the Feast of Our Lady in the 1960s, there were only three people. Now it overwhelms me to come here today and see the thousands.”
Youth march through the streets of Stockton, CA as part of the annual procession to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.
One of the teenagers involved in the festivities talked about how she has witnessed young people’s lives literally transformed through their experience with this event. “Doing drugs, getting pregnant, or joining a gang are ways that young people get into trouble here, but we’ve seen kids turning away from that because this event gives them hope and purpose.”
One young man, who performs in the parade each year and attributes his survival of a bad accident to Our Lady of Guadalupe, said, “We realize we are family here, united in our faith.”
“When I see all these young people walking the streets in the name of the Church,” said one man, “the hair on my arms just stands right up.”
In a recent blog post, I talked about resourceful Christianity -- people who really stretch the dollar. Stockton’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe event requires a full year of planning, involves hundreds of volunteer organizers and, ultimately, engages thousands of people who sing and perform in the procession. Considering the Diocese of Stockton has only a single paid staff person organizing this event, one stands in amazement at the community’s ability to organize and grow a celebration of this magnitude from 3 to 12,000 over the years.
But Stockton’s Catholics are determined to keep expanding the event. Catholic Extension is working with the diocese to further support its efforts to enhance the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe experience and create a more financially sustainable event, so that the continued growth of this Catholic feast does not outgrow the diocese’s capacity to host this experience and reach out to even more of the nearly 325,000 people in the area.
This past Sunday, I saw 12,000 people and 12,000 reasons to be hopeful. As one man told me, “When we all come together like this, we realize we are not alone.” I couldn’t help but think about those early disciples who, upon realizing that they weren’t alone, immediately got out into the streets to offer some Good News to the world. We were grateful to see hopeful things take place before our eyes– in 3-D – during an extraordinary day in Stockton, CA.
Where do you see hope happening near you?
- Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management
For more on Catholic Extension’s journeys, follow Joe on Twitter.