The following was published in the Alburquerque Journal on August 16, 2008:
Parish Completes a Character Transformation
Journal Staff Writer
There was a moment just after the unveiling of the bronze Our Lady of Guadalupe statue Friday evening when Santa Fe's old and new were facing each other.
La Peregrina, the three-foot-high traveling replica of La Conquistadora, was just off to the side looking toward the new 14-foot statue that arrived earlier last month from Mexico to be placed outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. La Conquistadora was made in Spain and brought to New Mexico on the Camino Real in about December 1625.
“It is the old and the new,” Cliff Russell, a parish member and a lector, said during the outdoor Mass with more than 500 people attending to dedicate the statue. “This really started seven years ago, when we fought to get the santuario back.”
Russell was referring to a move that ensured the parish could make sure the activities that occurred in the adjacent Santuario de Guadalupe were more appropriate and respectful to the church.
And with the coming of a new priest to the church in 2003, the Rev. Tien-Tri Nguyen, a mission to become more embracing of the community was set in place, too. Within his first three years, Nguyen's Spanish and English Masses changed the makeup of the church to include some 60 to 70 percent Mexican parishioners. More than 2,000 people now attend the weekend masses.
Friday evening's celebration — with hundreds of people attending and enough food to feed a thousand — was designed to make sure the community knew that the Our Lady of Guadalupe statue was in place to welcome all people. The entire procession into the Mass included not only a host of Catholic priests, but a group of Knights of Columbus, the entire Fiesta Council royalty and a group of Aztec dancers.
Not even a steady rain that grew heavy at times could drive the crowds away, with people packed into the lower parking lot where the Mass was held and lining the upper balcony several rows deep.
Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan addressed the crowd, talking about a mother's love and asking the question, “Who is the mother's favorite child?” only to answer by saying it is whoever is in the most need.
Comparing the ordinary mother to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sheehan said, “If it is true of all mothers, it is more so true of Our Lady.”
And then he asked, “Who are her favorite children today?” He answered, “First of all, they are her immigrant children ... She knows today what it is like to come to the U.S. without a passport,” raising a collective chuckle from the audience. The $70,000, 4,000-pound statue went missing for a day and a night last month, and then was discovered in an El Paso warehouse.
Sheehan went on to say, “She has seen the fear they live in,” referring to immigrants, and added, “She wants us to welcome one another into our churches.”
“Secondly,” Sheehan said, Our Lady of Guadalupe's favorite children are “all the Catholics in our country,” and third, “all of us who live in this beautiful country. As children of God, we are also her children.”
Sheehan thanked Nguyen (called “Father Tri”) for helping bring the statue to Santa Fe, as a round of celebratory “Que Vivas” went through the crowd.
When communion started, the skies darkened, and the rain came, but it didn't stop the masses from coming forward. As Nguyen presented a small replica of the new statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Sheehan, the sun broke through the clouds even as the rain continued.
Mayor David Coss then addressed the group and said to Sheehan, “Thank you for your message about immigrants. We are trying to follow that here in Santa Fe.”
As much of the crowd moved to the upper level for the unveiling of the statue, tables in the parking lot were filled with roasted corn on the cob and red chile, barbecued beef sandwiches with salsa and onions.
Even with so many people trying to get fed, the lines moved smoothly.
“We know how to feed people,” Deacon Anthony Trujillo said with a grin.