NEW GARDEN >> Several thousand members of St. Rocco Church in New Garden marked the anniversary of an appearance by the Virgin Mary during services on Friday.

The Catholic celebration of Out Lady of Guadalupe isn’t exactly a Christmas celebration, but it comes around during the season every year on Dec. 12 and is a time for merriment, reflection and prayer. In New Garden, where a large Mexican population has settled through the years, the services are especially important and attract huge numbers. They are celebrated in Spanish.

The account of the original event that spawned the celebration worldwide states that on the morning of Dec. 9, 1531, a native American peasant named Juan Diego saw a vision of a woman at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac, which would become part of Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City, according to published reports.

The woman spoke to him and asked that a church be built at the site. According to the legend, Juan Diego recognized her as the Virgin Mary and he sought the archbishop of Mexico City to tell him what happened. The archbishop told him to return and find out more.

When Juan Diego returned to the hill, he saw the vision of Mary again and he asked her for a sign to prove her identity. The first sign was the healing of Juan’s uncle, but another involved Juan gathering flowers from the top of the hill, which was normally barren in December, and put them in his cloak.

When he returned to the archbishop and opened his cloak, the flowers fell out and on the fabric was a vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Celebration of this event is one of the biggest annual happenings at St. Rocco Church every year.

Many of the members of the congregation bring their children dressed in native garb, and they present flowers along with the offerings of the day at the altar. The music is upbeat, with a loud mariachi band playing intermittently between prayers and homilies.

So popular is the Guadalupe celebration that the church holds services starting at midnight on Dec. 11 and continuing through the day Dec. 12.

Monsignor Frank Depman, who is the priest at St. Rocco, said this week’s midnight Mass was so popular that they had to open the doors of the church to accommodate the crowd into the outer plaza.

“We began at 11 o’clock and didn’t get out of here until 3 a.m. One person brought a cake that was 15 layers high. A lot of them bring food,” he said.

St. Rocco is estimated to be the largest church congregation in Chester County with about 14,000 members and about 2,400 attending Sunday services. Ground was broken for the building on Aug. 16, 2010, and it was opened one year later. It is the first national parish designated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for Hispanics.

Depman said the congregation continues to increase, not only from immigrants coming from Mexico but from Latino workers to come to southern Chester County from other areas of the United States because there is work there.

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