By Mario A. Cortez
Faithful to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe continue to stop outside the Barrio Logan Church dedicated to this Marian apparition to pray and leave offerings despite the parish no longer hosting in-person mass.
Sandra and her husband stood by themselves outside the parish. The neighborhood residents would normally have been regular mass attendees.
At the site, they bowed their heads in prayer, expressing gratitude for their good health and pleaded for the sick and vulnerable to remain safe. They offered a candle to a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the temple’s plaza, lined with flowers, letters, and candles placed by the many others who had also made a visit.
“We come thinking of everyone around us, and especially people going through bad times,” she shared.
Neighborhood resident and street vendor Norma Gonzalez is not a practicing Catholic.
However, she laments how quiet the neighboring streets have been during weekends since COVID restrictions went into place.
“The block looks so sad, so empty, without anyone here. We would normally have so many people,” She said.
Due to uncontrolled COVID-19 spread in San Diego County and the rest of Southern California, the church has adapted to state mandates on religious gatherings. It held outdoor services on its front plaza while these were permitted. As case numbers rose and intensive care capacity plummeted, the church opted to cancel live mass, offering live stream service on its Facebook profile.
The decision to cancel came right before the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, normally the most attended services of the year for the parish, from December 11 through 13. As part of this precaution, parish leadership continued hosting Facebook live streams during usual mass times.
Ending services left the surrounding street bare of the vendors, musicians, and hundreds of practicing Catholics who would normally pack inside and around the church.
Celebrations to commemorate the Lady of Guadalupe’s manifestation often include nine-days of prayer, large processions to churches, mariachi or norteño bands dedicating traditional songs to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and large street fairs with food and vendors.
A recording on the parish’s telephone line states its leadership chose to follow the lead of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, which receives hundreds of thousands of visitors during the Feast, and cancel all in-person observances. A similar message was displayed outside the temple and on the local church’s website.
Beyond the yearly feast, the church is a major hub for the historic Chicano community of Barrio Logan and San Diego’s Mexican-American community at large. It has been the site of countless baptism, communion, and wedding celebrations for people of Mexican descent. The church’s facade is a common backdrop for the city’s lowrider clubs to take pictures of their tricked-out cars. The retirement and later passing of longtime father Richard Brown, known as El Padrecito del Barrio by the community, sent waves beyond the neighborhood, leading to a City proclamation honoring his leadership.
In San Diego, the often-called “Mother of Mexico” is ubiquitous wherever there are believers.
The icon can be found in homes, cars, and businesses from San Ysidro to Oceanside. Many sport her likeness everyday on caps, decals, and tattoos. At Chicano Park, a National Historic Site a few blocks from the church, murals pay tribute to the matroness. A 1978 piece by Mario Torero that honors Our Lady of Guadalupe as the “Queen of the Americas”. Just steps away, on a 2017 work by muralist Sal Barajas, she leaves water in the desert for migrants.
Leen Gander is not religious, but she came from outside the community to light a candle in memory of her parents. The site is symbolic for her Jordanian Catholic family, as her parents worshipped with other devotees to Mary of Guadalupe despite the cultural barrier. “I came to honor their faith and to honor them here.”
She laments people not being able to worship in a traditional way, but the lack of in-person mass can help many appreciate what the site stands for.
“This place represents something beautiful,” she stated.
Jorge drove from unincorporated Spring Valley in east San Diego County, to pray and express gratitude to the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the outer plaza. “My faith has helped me keep course during the last year,” he shared. “We have to be thankful for what we have every day, especially this year.”
After his prayer, he lit a candle and took off.