Each year, Catholics in the Diocese of Stockton celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe by parading through the streets.

It's a centuries-old story close to the hearts of Hispanic Catholics: in 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian.

For years, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been celebrated across the country with vibrant, spirited processions through the streets. In the Diocese of Stockton, California, the annual feast is certainly a sight to behold, though it didn’t begin that way—the celebration started 30 years ago with only a handful in attendance. Since then, it has grown into a daylong event drawing 12,000 participants of all ages, complete with a mile-long route, enormous floats, and endless singing and dancing.

"When I first celebrated the Feast of Our Lady in the 1960s, there were only three people," noted one parade watcher, who danced in the procession in its earliest days. Today, she watches her grandchildren participate. "Now it overwhelms me to come here and see the thousands."

But what is most striking about the celebration is not necessarily the giant procession. Over the years, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has united the community of Stockton, enriching the faith and acting as a force of hope in the face of economic hardship. It draws people, particularly the young, into the church and gives them a sense of meaning.

One of the teenagers involved in the festivities talked about how she has seen young people's lives transformed through this experience. "Young people get into trouble here, doing drugs, joining gangs, and getting pregnant, but we’ve seen kids turn away from these things because this event gives them hope and purpose."

These young people join hundreds of volunteers (and only one paid staff member!) that participate in a full year of planning for the one-day event.

Catholic Extension donors have provided funding to enhance this joyful celebration and help the diocese reach an even larger goal—to bring all 325,000 residents of Stockton together in this profound expression of faith.

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