SANTA ANA — Before Isabel Lopez's mother died several years ago, she whispered reassurance to her daughter, "remember, you still have the Lady Guadalupe."
Lopez, 62, did remember Sunday as she and about 400 other Roman Catholics participated in the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe Day, a downtown procession honoring Mexico's patron saint.
"The Virgin was the mother of the Americas," Lopez said. "She represents peace and everything to me."
The event along 4th Street offered festivities and a parade of folkloric dancers and young children dressed in traditional garb, representing various Mexican regions and cultures.
Celebrants from dozens of Orange County churches linked arms and surrounded Bishop Norman F. McFarland of the Diocese of Orange, who led them along with performers re-enacting the tale of the four apparitions of the Virgin, which contributed to the spread of the Catholic faith in Mexico.
According to tradition, a poor Indian named Juan Diego heard sweet music from the Tepeyac hill, just northwest of Mexico City, on his way to the Franciscan church. The Mexican Virgin then appeared to him on that day--Dec. 9, 1531--and instructed him to have the bishop build a church on Tepeyac in her honor, so that she could be the merciful mother to Diego and his people.
But the bishop did not believe Diego when he arrived at the church. The Virgin appeared to Diego on four occasions, finally commanding him to climb the Tepeyac hill and gather flowers flourishing in the winter and to take them to the bishop.
And so Diego complied, the tale continued. When he went again to the bishop, the flowers he had gathered in his mantel fell to the ground, revealing the image of a brown-skinned Virgin in the cloth. The Basilica of the Lady of Guadalupe, whose image is known for a praying woman standing on a crescent moon with her head tilted to the side, is now at the site.
Among Catholics of Mexican descent, the procession marked the early part of the novena, a nine-day period marked by prayers, leading to the Dec. 12 commemoration of the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Despite the unexpected cold weather Sunday, the event was enlivened by various cultures that transcended generations and borders, said organizers.
Different Mexican states and people proudly presented their cultures through dress and dance. The ceremony began with the Matechines, indigenous men and women dancing in red vests and long skirts, studded with bells and beads.
Teen-aged girls in wide-bottomed and ruffled dresses in shades of purple represented the Jalisco state.
"There is such a spirituality for Our Lady and the people here," said organizer Juanamaria Amezquita, of the Diocese of Orange.