Standing on 25th & Butler in Chicago Heights, the strong smell of fresh roses awakens your senses on a chilly December evening. A bright light from a stained glass window draws the people of the neighborhood inside the small church of St. Paul's Catholic Church.
It's Dec. 12. Time to pay tribute to the Patroness of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
"She is the queen of the Mexicans," says South Chicago Heights resident Abieal Garcia. He has brought his wife and three children here for the past 6 years.
Hundreds of roses, mostly red, surround a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, standing in the front of the church. It took Chicago Heights resident Maria Socorro almost two days to set up the statue and decorate the small church.
"The tradition is to pray a novena, the rosary and attend Holy Mass," says Socorro. "We all place requests. I pray this year their is an increase of faith in our people. The Lady of Guadalupe, she brought faith to the native Mexicans. My request is that faith will increase around the world."
The story goes: On Dec. 9, 1531, a peasant Juan Diego saw a vision of a girl, around 15 years old, standing on the Hill of Tepeyac. She was surrounded by light. Speaking to Juan, she asked that a church be built on that site. Juan Diego knew this to be the Virgin Mary. The Spanish Archbishop told Juan Diego to ask the lady for a miraculous sign. Diego returned to Tepeyac Hill and found Castilian roses, which are not native to Mexico. On Dec. 12, Juan Diego returned to visit Bishop Zumarraga. He opened his cloak and when the roses fell to the floor, he saw the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted in the fabric.
Pastor of St. Paul's, Father Rene Mena, has overseen the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe for the past three years at the church. "She came with a maternal love, she changed the mentality of the native people," he said. "She comes to protect, she comes and embraces."
There was two days of celebrating the Lady of Guadalupe. "We begin the night before," says Father Rene. We call that the vigil. We begin with the rosary at 9 p.m., then we have a vigil mass at 10 p.m. On Dec. 12, we begin with a mass at 5 a.m. then continue the feast with masses at 5 .p.m and 7 p.m."
At the end of the mass, Father Mena and other church volunteers pass out the hundreds of roses that had filled the church. Many in the congregation bring up paintings and statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe to be blessed.
"Today we receive the words of Our Lady to echo in our hearts," says Father Mena. She is moving us to change on the Hill.