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La Virgen Is Queen of Court

Mexican religious relic gets the star treatment at Mass held before the soccer game in Carson.

July 16, 2006|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

With the beer icing a little longer than usual and the soccer ball still in the locker room, La Virgen de Zapopan took center stage before Saturday's Major League Soccer game at the Home Depot Center.

Or more accurately, she took center court.

In an example of the synergy of sports and religion, Chivas USA held a Catholic Mass in the adjacent tennis stadium before the team played the Galaxy.

The Mass was among the first held in conjunction with an athletic contest by a modern-day professional sports organization in the United States.

The church service was highlighted by the appearance of La Virgen de Zapopan, a small, 16th century statue of the Virgin Mary from the Mexican state of Jalisco that many believe has delivered miracles.

"La Virgen is wrapped up in a lot of our lives," Chivas USA co-owner Antonio Cue said. "It's a great opportunity for the Chivas family to meet with her. This is part of their culture."

Performers in traditional Aztec regalia, drummers and singers livened the service, during which some people wore ties and dresses and others donned Chivas USA jerseys.

Father Luis Angel Nieto of Resurrection Church in East Los Angeles performed the Mass and said it was a privilege to deliver his homily in front of La Virgen.

During the service, he crowned La Virgen as the Queen of Immigrants.

"The faith touches all aspects of our lives," Nieto said through an interpreter. "It's in sports, politics, education and everything else. It only brightens all those areas."

La Virgen, a 13-inch relic dressed in a white dress and enclosed in a plastic case, was staged on a pedestal and surrounded by flowers.

At conclusion of the Mass, the congregation of several hundred entered the tennis court's surface and walked in a procession through the tunnel and around the soccer stadium.

La Virgen received a warm applause from those who had missed the Mass, instead heading straight to the soccer stadium. As Chivas and Galaxy players warmed up on the field, fans reached from the stands to touch the tiny statue's encasement.

"It was a beautiful service," said Carmela Estrada, of Mexico's Guerrero state. "It wasn't weird, because they have services like that all the time in Mexico."

However, others thought mixing religion and sport was odd.

"It was a little different," said Jesus Ramos, a Jalisco native who attended the Mass and game. "It was the first time I had seen something like this, but I've looked forward to it for two weeks."

The Mass concluded La Virgen's visit to the Southland, which occurs every two years, and she will now start her return trek to Mexico.

Cue said that he plans additional Masses and making La Virgen's visit to Home Depot Center a regular occurrence.

"We definitely want to do it again," Cue said. "Every time La Virgen comes, she will be welcomed here."

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