SUNNYSIDE — The sounds of a festival to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe filled St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Parish Center to mark the 478th birthday of the patron saint of the Americas’ Catholic faithful.

Bands serenaded the “Mother of the World,” while the faithful worshiped at her altar by lighting candles and placing roses at her feet.

The birthday feast day began at 3:30 a.m. festival organizers Antonio and Mariselo Bermudez said.

She said the day began with mañanitas (birthday serenades), a mass followed by hot cocoa and bread. The festival continued at 2 p.m. with more music, and food — lots of food — as well as games and dancing at the parish center.

“We’re expecting more than 400 people to attend the festival,” Marisela Bermudez said.

She said three bands were scheduled to play including El Heroe y Su Grupo de Tierra Caliente, who entertained during the late afternoon portion of the ceremonies. A mass at 7 p.m. was scheduled to conclude the festival.

Families stood before the altar of the “dark-skinned Mary, who first appeared to an Indian farmer named Juan Diego near the Tepeyac Hill near what is now Mexico City.

Legend has it that the local priest didn’t believe Juan Diego had seen Mary and required proof.

The farmer returned with flowers which didn’t grow in the region and the legend of the Lady of Guadalupe was established.

Children sang mañanitas and performed dances in the early morning hours for the patron saint.

For Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as well as other Latinos, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a powerful symbol of devotion, identity, and patriotism. Her image inspires artists, activists, feminists and the faithful.

“I can remember as a child getting up very early to attend the mass of our Lady of Guadalupe,” Panda Bear Director Catalina Bazaldua said. “It’s a happy memory.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is revered, recognized, and commercialized throughout Latin America.

“We celebrate because she is the mother of the world,” Amelia Calvillo said. The Sunnyside woman was one of the many individuals to have their photo taken before the altar.

For Calvillo, the patroness is deeply ingrained in her culture. “She’s our Lady,” she said.

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