Alejandro Lamas stretches his arms as a bishop during an Our Lady of Guadalupe play on Sunday at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. In the background are Kimberly Valadez, playing the Virgin Mary, and Milagros Correa and Carlos Orozco as the angels. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Alejandro Lamas stretches his arms as a bishop during an Our Lady of Guadalupe play on Sunday at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. In the background are Kimberly Valadez, playing the Virgin Mary, and Milagros Correa and Carlos Orozco as the angels. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A visionary celebration for Juneau’s Hispanic community

Church celebrates Mexico’s Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe with Mass, play and food.

Imanol Vera, 12, didn’t have to spend 40 days or 40 years wandering the desert in search of spiritual guidance, but he did run perhaps that many laps around the altar and other fixtures at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Sunday night on his path as a Mexican peasant who became a holy visionary.

He played the lead role of Juan Diego, said to have been visited by apparitions of the Virgin Mary on four occasions in December 1531, in a play during a Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. The play performed in Spanish came after a Mass also in Spanish observing the Mexican holy occasion, with the church gathering attended by more than 100 people followed by a Mexican feast in the adjacent parish hall building.

Imanol Vera (left), playing the lead character of Juan Diego, appears before the Virgin Mary (played by Kimberly Valadez) and angels (played by Milagros Correa and Carlos Orozco) during an Our Lady of Guadalupe play at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Imanol Vera (left), playing the lead character of Juan Diego, appears before the Virgin Mary (played by Kimberly Valadez) and angels (played by Milagros Correa and Carlos Orozco) during an Our Lady of Guadalupe play at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Vera said he moved to Juneau with his family seven years ago with his family, joining other relatives here, after growing up for nearly six years in Hidalgo, Mexico. He said it’s the second straight year he’s played Diego as part of the celebration, hosted by the Juneau Hispanic Ministry the first time last year, describing the visionary as “a really big part of the history of Mexicans” who inspired other Christians to spread his story throughout the world.

The website Catholic Online begins a description of the event with the narrative “an elder Mexican man makes his way to Mass in the early morning twilight of December 9, 1531. He is a peasant, a simple farmer and laborer, and he has no education. Born under Aztec rule, he is a convert to Catholicism, and each step he takes this morning is a step into history.”

“The morning quiet is broken by a strange music that he will later describe as the beautiful sound of birds. Diverting his path to investigate the sound, Juan Diego comes face to face with a radiant apparition of the Virgin Mary.”

Vera in-between his visions on stage before the illuminated Virgin Mary, spends his time conversing with other characters as well as dashing in circles around darker areas of the church such as the altar.

“All that running around — for the time, for the music — it’s my path leading to finding Guadalupe,” he said.

Brayam J. Valadez, 12, kneels in thankfulness as the historic character Juan Bernardino during an Our Lady of Guadalupe play on Sunday at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. At right are Kimberly Valadez, playing the Virgin Mary, and Milagros Correa and Carlos Orozco as the angels. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Brayam J. Valadez, 12, kneels in thankfulness as the historic character Juan Bernardino during an Our Lady of Guadalupe play on Sunday at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. At right are Kimberly Valadez, playing the Virgin Mary, and Milagros Correa and Carlos Orozco as the angels. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Among the others Vera’s character encountered in the retelling of the historic narrative was his uncle Juan Bernardino, an aging man with a supposedly fatal ailment played by Brayam J. Valadez, 12. According to the narrative, Diego set out early in the morning after a night of caretaking to bring back a priest to hear his uncle’s confession and administer last rites, but Bernardino was visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary that resulted in his healing.

Valadez, who moved with his family to Juneau last December from Aguascalientes, Mexico, has been active in the church and language-immersion classes since arriving, said his father Francisco J. Valadez. The father said he moved to the United States to take a construction job and chose Juneau because of its distinctively different setting.

“This is a small town, so everything is very comfortable,” he said. “Not too much traffic. So everything is more good over here.”

Adriel Cervantes and Emiliano Acevedo, appearing as friars, carry an image of the Virgin Mary at the conclusion of an Our Lady of Guadalupe play at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Adriel Cervantes and Emiliano Acevedo, appearing as friars, carry an image of the Virgin Mary at the conclusion of an Our Lady of Guadalupe play at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Hispanics and Latinos were the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in recent years, increasing from 1,613 residents in 2010 to 2,364 in 2022, according to U.S. Census figures. The latter represents 7.2% of Juneau’s population in 2022, compared to 61.8% white (not including Hispanics or Latinos), 9.4% Alaska Native or American Native, 7.2% Asian, 1.4% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 1.1% Black or African American, and 15% two or more races.

The Juneau Hispanic Ministry initiated its Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration last fall in the hope of getting the community more involved in such occasions that are of importance to the Hispanic community, said Delores Cervantes, the group’s coordinator.

“We’re hoping to get the community more involved and then beyond the church, celebrating Cinco de Mayo and other celebrations going on,” she said.

Another Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass, without the play, is scheduled at the church at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, the official date of the celebration that is a national holiday in Mexico.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Humberto Aristizabal, the Hispanic ministry pastor at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage, presides over a Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass at St. Paul Catholic Church on Sunday. Another Mass observing the Mexican Catholic holiday is scheduled at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, the official date of the celebration. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Humberto Aristizabal, the Hispanic ministry pastor at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage, presides over a Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass at St. Paul Catholic Church on Sunday. Another Mass observing the Mexican Catholic holiday is scheduled at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, the official date of the celebration. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Elena Kamas (foreground), Oscar Humberto Garcia Marcias (left) and Olivia Castañeda serve food following the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Elena Kamas (foreground), Oscar Humberto Garcia Marcias (left) and Olivia Castañeda serve food following the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Current facilities operated by the private nonprofit Gastineau Human Services Corp. include a halfway house for just-released prisoners, a residential substance abuse treatment program and a 20-bed transitional living facility. (Gastineau Human Services Corp. photo)
Proposed 51-unit low-income, long-term housing project for people in recovery gets big boost from Assembly

Members vote 6-2 to declare intent to provide $2M in budget to help secure $9.5M more for project.

Members of the Alaska House of Representatives watch as votes are tallied on House Bill 50, the carbon storage legislation, on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House, seeking to boost oil and gas business, approves carbon storage bill

Story votes yes, Hannan votes no as governor-backed HB 50 sent to the state Senate for further work.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

An illustration depicts a planned 12-acre education campus located on 42 acres in Juneau owned by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which was announced during the opening of its annual tribal assembly Wednesday. (Image courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
Tribal education campus, cultural immersion park unveiled as 89th annual Tlingit and Haida Assembly opens

State of the Tribe address emphasizes expanding geographical, cultural and economic “footprint.”

In an undated image provided by Ken Hill/National Park Service, Alaska, the headwaters of the Ambler River in the Noatak National Preserve of Alaska, near where a proposed access road would end. The Biden administration is expected to deny permission for a mining company to build a 211-mile industrial road through fragile Alaskan wilderness, handing a victory to environmentalists in an election year when the president wants to underscore his credentials as a climate leader and conservationist. (Ken Hill/National Park Service, Alaska via The New York Times)
Biden’s Interior Department said to reject industrial road through Alaskan wilderness

The Biden administration is expected to deny permission for a mining company… Continue reading

An aerial view of downtown Juneau. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Task force to study additional short-term rental regulations favored by Juneau Assembly members

Operator registration requirement that took effect last year has 79% compliance rate, report states.

Cheer teams for Thunder Mountain High School and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé perform a joint routine between quarters of a Feb. 24 game between the girls’ basketball teams of both schools. It was possibly the final such local matchup, with all high school students scheduled to be consolidated into JDHS starting during the next school year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
State OKs school district’s consolidation plan; closed schools cannot reopen for at least seven years

Plans from color-coded moving boxes to adjusting bus routes well underway, district officials say.

Snow falls on the Alaska Capitol and the statue of William Henry Seward on Monday, April 1. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s carbon storage bill, once a revenue measure, is now seen as boon for oil and coal

Last year, when Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed legislation last year to allow… Continue reading

Most Read