Bonnie Pfister
Father Daniele Vallecorsa

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Latino community may be small and dispersed, but hundreds will gather Monday in celebration of a brown-skinned image of the virgin mother that helped knit together Europe and the Americas beginning 500 years ago.

Dec. 12 is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is said to have appeared to indigenous Juan Diego in the hills outside of Mexico City in 1531. Depending on who’s telling the story, her appearance to a Mexican peasant either underscored the worthiness of New World Christian converts, or was a brilliant stroke of marketing on the part of Spanish missionaries. In any event – and for better or worse — La Virgen helped bridge the gap between continents, cultures and people.

People of Mexican descent are only a fraction of the Latino community in Pittsburgh – Peruvians, Venezuelans, Colombians, Chileans, Argentineans and Spaniards are also well represented, as are Brazilans. But participants bearing the flags of many Spanish-speaking nations – as well as the American flag – are typically part of the procession of faithful at the annual mass honoring the icon the Vatican eventually dubbed the “Empress of the Americas.” Bishop David Zubik will officiate.

“This celebration of the Blessed Mother demonstrates the continued support of the diocese to the Latino community in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas,” said Father Daniele Vallecorsa, the diocese’s pastor of the Latino Catholic community. Weekly Spanish-language masses are offered at St. Regis Parish in south Oakland.

Pittsburgh has long been a melting pot. The region’s many churches displaying stained-glass windows and etchings in German, Greek and dozens of Slavic languages speak to the comfort and pride immigrants have always taken in their traditions, even as they make their way in a new land. The cycle continues as, for example, St. Paul’s Church in Butler, founded in 1867 by Irish immigrants, today offers a spiritual home to many Latino families.

Festival events begin Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m., with arrival of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe from Saint Regis Church to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Mass will begin at 7 p.m., followed by a reception in the cathedral social hall.

See the images below from the 2010 celebration.