Virgin of Guadalupe procession from Santa Rosa to Windsor returns
Darkness, cold, rain and fog await her on her drawn-out 8.7-mile walk over concrete and asphalt, which she’ll do breathing through an anti-COVID mask.
No matter. Edith Castro will do it gladly.
And so will hundreds of other pilgrims from Sonoma County and cities as far away as San Francisco and Sacramento who will participate in the annual procession.
They will trek from Santa Rosa to Windsor, led by a group of believers carrying a wooden platform with large statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s most emblematic spiritual symbol.
The walk is one of Sonoma County’s most striking spiritual processions. It is filled with Aztec dancers, carolers holding candles that illuminate their joyous faces in the pitch-black night, rosary-carrying parishioners, and lavishly dressed Charros, Mexican horsemen riding proud.
The procession has been a tradition since 1998 when a group of 10 “Guadalupanos,” people who are devotees of the Virgin, made the first walk.
The procession grew year after year, with as many as a thousand people taking part in the approximately four and a half-hour walk from Santa Rosa to Windsor. Last year’s COVID-19 restrictions put a jarring halt to the procession, Castro says.
But now, the time is right for the return of the Virgin, says Castro, 51, a Mexico City born, local vineyard worker who has taken part in many processions.
“Faith moves mountains,” she said.
“This is to reinforce our faith, to those of us who are surviving this pandemic. We can survive this, also religiously, by taking care of ourselves. Taking the vaccine. Wearing masks,” she continued. “You should not lose your faith or the belief in God just because of an illness. Quite the contrary. You should reinforce your faith.”
Castro joined an impromptu organizing committee after she became an Aztec Dancer. Indigenous dancers like her have traditionally danced in honor of the Virgin since 1531 — some pilgrims even go barefoot during the entire procession, often as a way to make an offer of thanksgiving for an illness cured by the Virgin’s intercession.
‘Everyone is welcome’
The Santa Rosa-Windsor procession is done on the 12th of December, a date where according to Catholic Mexican tradition, the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous convert in 1531. According to the story, Juan Diego took to an incredulous Spanish Bishop some flowers touched by the Virgin, and as his cloak fell, it miraculously revealed an image of the Virgin.
The cloak, or “Tilma,” as it is called in Spanish, now remains inside Mexico City’s Basilica, where it is currently the center of one of the largest and most visited pilgrimage sites in the world.
The devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe has not only spread to all of Mexico and many parts of the U.S. but its has recently been taken up outside of Catholic churches, including some Anglican and Lutheran churches.
The Santa Rosa-Windsor procession is not the only event dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Sonoma County. In Sonoma, a procession organized by St. Francis Church will start at noon in front of City Hall, on Sonoma Plaza, according to organizers.
A Mariachi band, which is the traditional group that plays during the Virgin of Guadalupe festivities, will be present. The procession will proceed from Sonoma Plaza to St. Francis, at 469 Third Street.
Also in Sonoma, Antonia Villalva and Adolfo Hernandez built a shrine dedicated to the Virgin. For years, they have welcomed pilgrims and onlookers to their home along Highway 12 near Agua Caliente, especially all day during every Dec. 12.
“People stop by who are going on trips and bring flowers, asking her to take care of them. She’s become a symbol of safety for everybody we know,” their daughter Jennifer Hernandez told the Press-Democrat in 2014. “Many people come with problems in their family. They bring a candle and light it for her and they pray for her.”
Castro says the Santa Rosa-Windsor procession is an organic affair, put together solely by believers. No churches from Santa Rosa or Windsor are involved.
“It is organized by pilgrims, for pilgrims to walk in the same faith,” she says. “This pilgrimage is a way to how to make things peacefully, how to respect all religions, and that all are welcome so we can know each other better. Everyone is welcome to walk with us.”
Joseph Treviño is the Editor of La Prensa Sonoma. He can be reached at 707 526’8501 or at firstname.lastname@example.org