A sign in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe Shrine explains that this year's celebration has been cancelled. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas
A family group takes a selfie in front of the Virgin of Guadalupe Shrine behind a sign explains that this year’s celebration at El Mercadito has been cancelled.

Visitors to El Mercado de Los Ángeles on Friday encountered the signs posted at the entrance to an outdoor market set up in the parking lot: the traditional annual celebration from the eve of the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the early hours of December 12 will not take place this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For decades, hundreds of residents of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and neighboring communities have faithfully attended the celebration, which included musical performances by mariachis, a theatrical recreation of the 1531 apparition of the Virgin in what is now Mexico City, and the distribution of free champurrado and pan dulce.

Many brought flowers to shrine devoted to the virgin – one of the most popular representations of the icon in the Eastside, where murals and other images of the Guadalupe abound.

On Friday, “El Mercadito” visitors wearing face masks walked up to the shrine to take photos in front of the image, keeping a safe physical distance from other family groups.

The cancellation –in keeping with current County stay-at-home orders– was to be expected. Earlier, authorities in Mexico City announced that the Basilica devoted to the Virgin at the site where Catholics believe the 1531 apparition took place –where millions of Mexican faithful make pilgrimage every year– would be closed this week. 

Catholic clerical leaders have taken similar measures in the United States. This month, the Los Angeles Archdiocese decided to move it’s annual Guadalupe procession away from East Los Angeles, to avoid the crowds that traditionally gathered on César Chávez Avenue. 

A smaller caravan was held in San Gabriel last Saturday and the huge mass at the East Los Angeles College’s stadium shifted to a smaller rite for 250 people outside the San Gabriel Mission.

As Religion News Service reported this week, Catholics around the country have found new, creative ways to express their devotion to the Virgin during the Pandemic:

“The pandemic may have canceled these large-scale processions, but as COVID-19 cases continue to surge, Catholics are adapting. From smaller car processions and outdoor Masses, to virtual services, testimonies and prayers, parishes and dioceses are finding socially distanced ways to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.” 

Figures of the Virgin of Guadalupe for sale at El Mercadito

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Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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