It was an annual procession to honor the patroness of the Americas, the “Brown Virgin,” as she’s known. But it came at a time when many Latino worshipers are concerned about the troubles faced by immigrants and refugees.
Before the procession began, Bishop Mario Dorsonville told the audience in Spanish that the annual event has had poor weather for at least the past three years. He said rain and snow is symbolic of Mary’s sacrifice.
“The angels are crying upon us because this is a beautiful way to express our compassion, solidarity and fraternity,” Dorsonville told The Washington Post. “The more snow, the more rain, the more people come to walk.”
The procession, which was lined by volunteers carrying the flags of every Latin American country, stopped four times for short speeches and prayers before reaching the basilica.
The four times represent the four instances the virgin, also known as the Lady of Guadalupe, appeared before Juan Diego, a native Mexican peasant in the 1500s, according to Catholic accounts.
At the first stop, Emilio Biosca Agüero, the pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, read prepared remarks in Spanish about how immigration isn’t just a concern for the Americas, but for the world.
Other stops were about solidarity, prayer and advocacy. Dorsonville said the topics of each stop related to each other as well as the need to recognize that refugees are owed compassion by all.
“(We’re) praying for ‘dreamers,’ praying for (temporary protected status), praying for all of those who really need comprehensive immigration reform,” Dorsonville said. “Our Lady is the Brown Virgin. When she appears for Juan Diego, she speaks in her native language. The message is let’s open our doors to different cultures because we’d be enriched. Cultures never harm other cultures. They enrich other cultures.”
Members of the D.C. police’s special operations division blocked traffic at intersections as the procession passed through.
A mariachi band also accompanied the crowd, playing songs in Spanish. Once at the basilica, a Mass was celebrated in five languages.
Marie Tomasso, 70, of Columbus, N.J., attended the event while visiting family in Gaithersburg, Md., for the weekend. Although the walk wasn’t related to Christmas, Tomasso said, there are some similar themes, such as sacrifice and a sense of community.
“Christmas is about love, family and peace on Earth,” Tomasso said. “What else could you possibly need?”