NORWALK, Conn. Marchers counted "Viva Le Mexico" among their phrases as they sang their way up South Main Street on Sunday morning, headed for Norwalk's St. Joseph's Church. Once there, their most colorful members provided the finale of the service, dancing at the front of the church in the style of their Mayan ancestors.
The church's pews were filled for the annual celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which drew Mexican Americans from throughout the area, timed to coincide with celebrations occurring throughout the country.
The Rev. Frantz Desruisseaux led the service, as he has since 1999. "It's the anniversary of the apparition for the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico," he said. "They keep that tradition alive. With the vision of Guadalupe, Mexico is one country, the Catholic faith is up because everybody believe in the Virgin Mother."
Desruisseaux hails from Haiti, where he learned to speak Spanish as well as French. A visit to Mexico opened his eyes, and he opened the church to Connecticut's Spanish people. "When I saw the way they celebrate in Mexico, I said, 'I am a priest in the parish. Some people are here that cannot go to Mexico, I have to open the door for them to give them a chance to celebrate their faith,'" he said. "That's why I opened the door for them."
The annual celebration is organized by Grupo Guadalupano. The marchers assembled at a home down the road from St. Joseph's, where a mariachi band sang to the statue of their lady before the group set out for their procession. Some were dressed in Mayan costumes; some were dressed as peasants. When they arrived, the church was full, and the statue was placed on the chancel. Desruisseaux celebrated a Catholic service that lasted more than an hour and a half, culminating with the Mayan-style performance.
When it ended, some lingered to touch the statue. One woman wiped away tears. A child's eyes lit up as she got close. Others went downstairs to have a Mexican feast.
It was all deeply appreciated by Silvino Zavaleda, a resident of Stratford who came to America from Vera Cruz about 33 years ago. "It's a little bit of our traditions after all these years that we've been in this country, it's special," he said. "Thanks God, and thank Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Grupo Guadulapano and St. Joseph's Church, they opened their heart for us. What else I can say? It's wonderful, it's wonderful."
All agreed that the church would be even more crowded at 10 p.m. Sunday, when another service would begin. "Tonight it will be packed," said Desruisseaux. That service will also be followed by a feast, and the mariachi band will lead songs through the night, according to Edgar Mora, president of Grupo Guadalupano.
"This is great because now there is not something only for Mexico, it can be something universal," Zavaleda said. "It's universal now because they celebrate it today, all over. Here, Chicago, Texas, Mexico, New York. It's something that really, for us, is very special."
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