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After long trip, Latino Catholics' icon, Our Lady of Guadalupe, ready for feast in Scranton

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

SCRANTON — Like an immigrant's, Our Lady of Guadalupe's rough passage here ties her present place to her native one.

She passed through eager crowds in Mexico City, rode twice on car roofs, was turned away at the airport and later flew north on a cargo jet.

The pilgrims who went to Mexico to get her — a 5- by 7-foot framed replica of the image of the Virgin Mary that appeared imprinted on a peasant's cloak in 1531 — wanted to create a direct connection to the original icon that is revered by Latino Catholics across continents.

“We wanted to get it from the source,” said Luis E. Canales, president of a board representing the sizable Latino community at St. John Neumann Parish in South Scranton, who went with four other parishioners and the Rev. John Ruth to secure the replica in October.

Canales explained that for years during the feast day celebrations for Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, worshippers directed their prayers to a statue of the virgin that was a distant representation of the original.

The new replica is as close as a copy could be.

In a corner of Nativity of Our Lord Church, where the painting is on prominent display, Ruth pointed to details faithfully reproduced from the original: creases from a period when the nearly 500-year-old cloth was folded; a splotch like a water stain in the upper right corner made by an acid attack on the canvas; vibrant color undulled by age.

The replica is the same size as the original and was reproduced from a photograph taken by designated artists at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, who then printed it on cloth.

“It's almost like she's a living being — her posture and the look on her face,” said Ruth, the coordinator of Hispanic ministry in Lackawanna County for the Diocese of Scranton. “When I first saw the original, I almost cried.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a powerful image for many Latino Catholics because of the story of its revelation and its complex history as a religious and cultural symbol in Mexico and across Latin America.

It is said she appeared to an indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, and spoke his language, not that of the conquering Spanish. When the regional bishop asked for proof of the vision, Juan Diego returned with a cloak full of roses — out of place and season — that he picked from a normally barren hilltop. He poured them at the bishop's feet and discovered the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on the cloak's fabric where the flowers had been.

Catholics attribute millions of conversions to the image and accounts of the apparition.

Many people feel a particular personal connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe, said Sister Mary Ann Zimmer, an assistant professor of religious studies at Marywood University who wrote a study of Mary and her influences.

“There is a lot of individual devotion to her as a healer and an aid to family harmony,” Zimmer said. “She has a reputation as being someone who accompanies you in your pain and cures it.”

For local Latino Catholics, the image is a bridge to homelands as well as a tool for prayer and unity.

Canales and Ruth sought to seal that connection in Mexico by carrying the framed replica in front of the original icon, allowing them to face each other and, Ruth said, share “a glance.”

“It was a direct blessing from the actual image to this one that we have in Scranton,” Canales said, “because one saw the other.”

Celebrations for Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day will be held throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton next week.

At St. John Neumann Parish, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera will attend a Mass at 1 p.m. Sunday which will be followed by a festival.

On Dec. 12, the feast day, worshippers will gather at 4 a.m. for mananitas, a morning ritual with a procession, prayers and songs.

Canales emphasized that the events and the image are available to anyone: Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness for all of the Americas.

“She represents all of us together,” he said. “At Nativity we have people from all different countries, different ethnicities, but we all get together in faith.”

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