Anyone downtown around 12:30 p.m. Sunday was not imagining things when they saw cowboys, a mariachi band, twirling dancers and a boy and girl resembling the peasant farmer Juan Diego and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For 25 years, Hispanics in Rome have come together to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said Oralia Caldera, whose grandmother — known as Mariposa, meaning butterfly in Spanish — helped pioneer the parade. The festival commemorates the legend of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a peasant farmer named Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill outside of Mexico City in 1531.
Caldera said her grandmother brought the traditional Catholic celebration to Rome and helped start what would eventually become the parade seen today. Mariposa died 16 years ago, Caldera said, but even to the point where she couldn’t walk anymore, she would follow the parade in a car.
The procession started out from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 911 Broad St., and made its way to The Forum, dancing, twisting and celebrating along the way.
Instead of watching from the sidewalks, paradegoers followed behind the Virgin Mary, depicted by Melissa Miranda, 15, and Juan Diego, played by Jose Reyes, 15.
Gary Gonzalez, 10, who rode in the float with a statue of the Virgin Mary and was dressed in a peasant farmer’s garb, became a part of the parade unexpectedly and said he felt “closer to God” in doing so.
Donning the Jalisco-style dancing dresses, girls and young women whipped the lengths of their brightly colored costumes through the air to the music of “la banda,” as proud parents snapped photos and cheered with the rhythm.
Brenda Almaras has been dancing since she was very young, and said “It is an honor to be able to do this yearly in the name of the Virgin.”
For Guillermo Padron, the celebration is a nostalgic recollection of the parades in his native Mexico, and explained, with his 2-year-old son, Dilan Padron, atop his shoulders, that he’s “never missed one in Mexico or here.”
The parade ended with a Mass depicting the events of the apparitions, followed by dinner, music and Mexican and Guatemalan folk dances.