Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Thousands turn out for Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival

A girl looks for a spot for her candle on a table packed with them at St. Clement Catholic Church’s Our Lady of Guadalupe festival.


A girl looks for a spot for her candle on a table packed with them at St. Clement Catholic Church’s Our Lady of Guadalupe festival.

PLANT CITY — Anselma Fernandez has lived most of her 46 years in the United States but on Tuesday night as St. Clement Catholic Church staged its Our Lady of Guadalupe festival, she couldn't help but feel a sentimental tug.

The flickering candles, the prayers, the folk dances, the smell of tacos and tortas reminded her of Matamoros in northern Mexico. Fernandez, now a St. Clement parishioner and Plant City resident, left Matamoros with her family when she was 12 years old.

"I get goose bumps," Fernandez said as about 100 children in red Aztec Matlachines costumes performed folk dances at Plant City Stadium. "I really do. Being here, seeing everything. I used to dance like that in school."

It seemed the same for the thousands of others who showed up, despite fears of rain, to participate in a religious procession, pray, celebrate midnight Mass, watch traditional dances and go on carnival rides.

Many knelt to light candles and offer prayers of thanks to the Virgin Mary or ask her intercession.

The annual event, the sixth one at the stadium, is "about our people and our faith," Fernandez said. "She is the mother of our Lord. It's also about bringing our people together."

The festival, a mix of religion and culture, is rooted in Mexican tradition. Children danced in elaborate costumes, vendors sold T-shirts, hats, rosaries and religious candles. Just outside the stadium, a midway offered carnival rides and sticky, fried foods.

But for many, the center of the action was a small, makeshift religious shrine inside the stadium behind third base. There, many knelt in the wet grass to place individual roses or bouquets. Some gazed at the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Some hung their heads in prayer.

"It's a tradition for our family," said Martin Reynoso, 36, who came with his wife, Sandra Solis, and their children, Vanessa, 10, and Rogelio, 7. "This is about our religion and our culture. It's about everything. We want to be here to share a moment, to see Our Lady. It's very important to us."

The festival recalls the story of Mexican peasant Juan Diego. In 1531, Diego saw a girl of about 15 or 16 surrounded by light on a hillside, the Virgin Mary. The story goes that she asked him to tell the local bishop to build a church there. The bishop asked for a sign. So again, she appeared to Diego and instructed him to pick flowers along the hillside. Although December was too late for flowers to bloom, Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, in full bloom on the hill.

The story continues that when Diego showed the bishop the roses, unfurling his tunic, the image of the Virgin Mary appeared on the tunic. That image is on display at a church in Mexico City.

Each year on Dec. 12, Latin communities recall the story with a festival and a Catholic mass. Bishop Robert Lynch was set to preside at mass at the Plant City festival.

"Most people see her as uniquely Mexican, but she really is the patroness of the Americas," St. Clement Pastor Tom Anastasia said of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For years, the festival was held on the grounds of St. Clement on Alexander Street. It was moved to accommodate growing crowds. Last year, about 3,500 showed up.

Anastasia hesitated to predict how many would attend this year's festival because of rain earlier in the day, but it seemed that by 9 p.m. the parking lot and most of the stadium was packed.

"We'll see. I'll say maybe 3,000 to 4,000," he said.

Rich Shopes can be reached at or (813) 661-2454.

Thousands turn out for Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival 12/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum


    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Florida's school grades improve as educators get the hang of a new system


    Following a trend, Florida's school grades showed strong gains in the third year after the state changed its grading formula and the standardized tests that students take every year.

    After finding out earlier Wednesday that her school went from a low C to an A,  Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates with her students in the YMCA After School program at the school in St. Petersburg. Houston is giving a high five to rising fifth grader Jonaven Viera. Rising 4th grader Jonathan Cafaro is in foreground with his back to camera. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  3. Tampa Bay woman, 11-year-old boy had sex up to 20 times the year their baby was born, detectives say.


    TAMPA — A woman sexually battered an 11-year-old Brandon boy, got pregnant and raised the baby for three years before a tip led to her arrest, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said.

    Marissa Mowry, now 25,  had sex as many as 20 times in 2014 with a boy who was 11 when he impregnated her, Hillsborough County detectives allege. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
  4. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks


    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  5. Mariners lose lefty Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery


    SEATTLE — Drew Smyly was the centerpiece to one of Seattle's many offseason moves by general manager Jerry Dipoto. He was a priority acquisition as a proven lefty for the rotation the Mariners believed would thrive pitching at Safeco Field.

    Drew Smyly will undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Seattle announced the diagnosis on Wednesday, ending Smyly's hopes of returning during the 2017 season. [AP photo]