DURHAM — A pilgrimage crossing national, cultural and religious lines came to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Thursday night with arrival of the Guadalupe torch on its way from Mexico City to New York.
Several hundred people gathered at the church steps to welcome the Antorcha Guadalupana, which relays of runners carry more than 3,000 miles each year, town to town and church to church, from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Patricks Cathedral.
Its religion, but it joins us in faith with our families from Mexico or other countries, said Juan Resendiz, a member of the board that organizes the celebration. We know they participate in the same thing in Mexico, so its like a junction of faith.
This is the eighth year the Antorcha Guadalupana has come through Durham, said Resendiz, who with his father, Aurelio Resendiz, has taken part in each one. Eleven-year-old Janelly Marquez of Durham hasnt taken part that long, but she said she planned to be up at 4 this morning to join the runners carrying the torch on from Durham to Richmond.
I love it, she said. Its fun because we get to know other people and get to know more about Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico, said Mauricio Castro of Chapel Hill, one of the observance organizers. In 1531, Mexican Catholics believe, the Virgin Mary appeared to an Aztec peasant, Juan Diego. The Bishop of Mexico accepted the apparition as a miracle, and the event symbolizes the indigenous Mexicans accepting the Catholic faith, Castro said, and blending some of their own traditions with it.
Some of those traditions were part of Thursdays celebration as a group of Aztec dancers from Chapel Hill performed before the torchs arrival and danced in procession as it was carried to the church steps. Besides the torch, runners are carrying paintings of Mary and Juan Diego from the Basilica.
Antorcha observances this year are focused on the Dream Act, which allows young undocumented immigrants to obtain work permits and avoid deportation for two years. Two Durham Dreamers Leslie Ibarra, 19, and Jose Espinosa, 17 spoke to the Antorcha crowd about their plans and hopes under the act.
Their talks, like the rest of the welcoming ceremony, were delivered in Spanish. Before the torch arrived, Ibarra and Espinosa said the Dream Act was a great opportunity for them to go to college and work without fear of arrest and being sent to Mexico.
This event is really, really important because they bring Virgin Mary from Mexico all the way over here, Ibarra said. Its special for me as a part of where Im from.
The gospel story of Christs birth is another connection between St. Mary and the Dreamers, Resendiz said.
Our Lady and (her husband) St. Joseph were immigrants, too, he said.