PLANT CITY — The annual Mexican festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe usually features dancing, carnival rides and food.
And Mario Lagunes had been hoping to launch his family's taco stand business after Wednesday night's Mass at the Plant City Stadium.
But this year, Mass was somber.
Father Carlos Jose Rojas of St. Clement Catholic Church had invited the families of the three Mexican-American men who tragically died within the last week to participate. The celebration became a memorial service as he led a candlelight procession and gave communion.
Rojas told the crowd of about 400 that it's sometimes hard to understand why such things happen. Juan Pablo "JP" Sanchez was only 18 when he died in a car crash Sunday. Michael Longoria, 36, a father of five, died in a shooting on Thursday, and the mourners still don't know why. Candelario Lagunes, 58, had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was killed in the crossfire between deputies and the man suspected in Longoria's slaying.
Mario Lagunes, 30, the son of Candelario Lagunes, comforted his mother after the Mass. Nearby, dozens of people took turns hugging Silvia Sanchez, JP's mother.
"It's just a painful day for everybody," Lagunes said. "They loved their son, and I loved my father."
His family is going to postpone launching their taco business, he said. It had been his father's dream to open a restaurant.
Rojas said that although it's upsetting to have so much tragedy at once, especially during the holiday season, he hopes the families find comfort in Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The festival commemorates Mexican Saint Juan Diego's sighting in 1531 of an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Rojas said she appeared to Diego to ask for a spiritual home to be built so she could comfort those who are mourning.
"She symbolizes a new dawn in the middle of sadness," he said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.