Cultura, Hacienda Heights

Mis Mañanitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe

Danzantes at Mass for La Virgen de Guadalupe

Early on in yesterday’s half marathon, just after entering Bonelli Park, I thought of La Virgen de Guadalupe. December 12th is her feast day, and it’s a big deal for Mexicans. I’ve been celebrating the day La Virgen Morena appeared to Juan Diego in the hills of Tepeyac in 1531 since I was a kid. I was born in to a family of Guadalupanos; we always participate in a big party at our home parish.

Fiesta for la Virgen de Guadalupe at St John Vianney

As I ran and admired the scenery, I imagined that my parents and grandparents were in Mass. Afterward, they would continue the celebration at the O’Callaghan Center. While I neared the finish line, they’d probably be eating tamales and drinking champurrado while enjoying the mariachi and the danzantes Aztecas. I attended the celebration Mass and party afterward for the first time in years last year.

Since I wasn’t there with them, I thought of the half marathon as my “Mañanitas”, my dedication in honor of La Virgencita. “Las Mañanitas Tapatías” is always sung for her on the feast day. Whether it was good or bad, my run would be for la Virgencita.

It turned out good. Better than I could have imagined.

After the race, Sean and I drove to my parents’ house so I could shower and change. Dad was at work getting the house ready for Christmas. My grandparents were supervising, er, relaxing and enjoying the late morning. Mom wasn’t around.

Something was off.

“Was there no celebration for La Virgen de Guadalupe today?” I asked dad.

“No,” he shook his head sadly.

Juan Diego y la Virgen de Guadalupe

It finally dawned on me. There could be no party. The party was always held in the O’Callaghan Center. Since the fire destroyed St John Vianey in April, all Masses have been held in the large multi-purpose room.

This year, the celebration for La Virgen de Guadalupe had been downsized. SJVs Guadalupanos still came together at dawn for the traditional rosary and “Las Mañanitas”. However, instead of a big party to bring the community together, there would be a low key gathering with pan dulce and chocolate.

I’m sure the low key celebration for La Virgencita was still nice, but it saddens me to think about all that the SJV community lost in the fire.

Note: The mosaic above is from Virgen de Guadalupe shrine outside SJV. It survived the fire (see lower left in this photo)

Boda, Hacienda Heights

A change in plans

Soon after Sean and I got engaged, we started checking out wedding sites and blogs. We did some initial planning. I wrote a just family guest list for my side. It was over 150 people. We didn’t have anything set just yet, but first on the list was to make an appointment to talk to one of the priests at St. John Vianney. I had no doubts that I wanted to get married at SJV. I daydreamed about it last August at my neighbor Jorge’s wedding to his high school sweetheart, Heather.

Heather and her father

I talked about having the wedding at SJV with my mom. We discussed Sean going through RCIA (he has to become Catholic first). She was really happy to hear a Catholic wedding was part of our plans.

Less than ten days later, SJV was burned down by an arsonist. After I processed the news and watched the video of the fire and viewed the photos, I immediately thought of the fall 2012 wedding I wanted. It’s not going to happen in the same church where I made my First Communion, celebrated my quinceañera, and was confirmed.

What it looks like now...

I cried when I saw the burnt doors on the LA Times photo gallery. “Those were the doors I was supposed to stand behind on my wedding day,” I thought. I’m not going to stand nervously in the narthex (foyer, sorta) with my arm hooked through my dad’s arm. He isn’t going to walk me down the aisle. I’m not going to kneel at the sanctuary in front of the altar and say my vows there in front of my family and friends. I’m not going to hear the pianist play Canon in D on the gorgeous pipe organ. My mom and Sean’s mom won’t light the candle in front of the lectern. I won’t take a bouquet to the statue of the Virgin Mary on the left side of the church. Sean and I won’t walk down the aisle together. And we won’t be greeted and congratulated by friends and family outside.

I felt somewhat selfish thinking all this, but couldn’t help it. I never envisioned what my wedding reception would look like except that it would be big and there would be a mariachi, those things were a given since I’m Mexican. But the ceremony? That was a different story.

And now it’s changed

Hacienda Heights

Odd moments in Mass

Spanish language children's choir at St John Vianney

I realized that I have very few digital photos of events in the church or even outside the church, but I have memories. Re-posted below is something I wrote for the old blog about some of the oddest moments I ever experienced at St. John Vianney. Two involved the founding pastor, Msgr. O’Callaghan (RIP), and all occurred during the average Sunday Mass. The photo above is from a Christmas concert with the Spanish language adult and children’s choir around 1988.

weirdness in church
04.19.05 // 9:58 p.m.

Growing up, I never missed Sunday Mass. Even if we were out of town or on vacation, my parents would find a Catholic church in the area and make us go. I saw a lot of interesting and weird things happen during Mass.

Once an altar boy named Eric whom I knew from catechism and high school got sick during the consecration of the host. This is one of those times during the Mass when the assembly (or congregation) is supposed to kneel. The altar servers kneel at uncomfortable kneelers on the wooden steps of the altar. Anyway, Eric stood up to go to the bathroom in the sacristy. He didn’t make it. All I saw was Eric’s breakfast fly out of his mouth in a stream that went remarkably far. Yeah, that was weird and kind of gross.

In another instance, Monsignor O’Callaghan snapped me out of my reverie when he mentioned my favorite band at the time, the Smashing Pumpkins. He railed against the lyrics “Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness / And cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty just like me.” That was weird too.

The third weird occurrence involved Msgr. O once again. This was a few months after the child molestation scandal broke out in Boston. I guess there had been some debate about allowing gay men to be priests. I was really surprised that Msgr. O wasn’t at all opposed to the notion of a gay man serving God in this role because he was rather conservative. He didn’t mention anything at all either about the incorrect notion of gay men being more likely to molest children. In the middle of the homily a woman five rows from the lectern stood up and started loudly proclaiming that homosexuality was a sin. What made me even sadder and more disgusted was that her young son and daughter (about 8-12 years old) stood up and joined in her opposition to gays. I felt like I was in the twilight zone though, because Msgr. O didn’t back down from his position. Instead, he argued with her a little and then the woman left the church.

This was a Sunday Mass. There were plenty of families there. People clapped when she got up and left. Msgr. O asked people to quiet down. He asked the assembly to pray for this woman, and ask God to open her heart. I was with my mom, and later when we got in the car she broke her silence on the outburst, “You know, it’s really sad that people still think like that. You would think that these days they’d be more open minded.”

Needless to say, I was dumbfounded.

Going to Mass almost every Sunday for 24.5 years straight will give you some strange stories to tell. I’ll be back with the weirdest. It has to do with colonization, imperialism and the Church.

Hacienda Heights

Surviving the flames

Happy 40th birthday to St. John Vianney Parish

Before I went to sleep last night, Adrian sent me a message.

“I have bad news, Chunk. St. John [Vianney] is on fire. Danny called right now, said it’s really bad, that they may not be able to save it.”

That was at 12:38 am.

I was shocked, but it didn’t hit me until the next message a minute later.

“[Danny] was crying saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ talking to Dad.”

I went to bed hoping I’d wake up to find out it wasn’t that bad, the LA County firefighters on the scene were able to save it.

St. John Vianney fire (LA Times photo)

I was wrong. The fire tore through the high roof of St. John Vianney. The church was destroyed, but the rectory was saved. The two priests and seminarian who live in the rectory beside the church awoke when they heard a blast (windows popping) and were not harmed.

Thanks to SJV friends on Facebook, I quickly found some news footage of the fire online. It was surreal to see flames lap at red banners and palm trees up for Palm Sunday services. I wanted to cry as I saw the external damage. My family’s home was destroyed.

My family has been active members of SJV for over 25 years. We were there every Sunday, bright and early for Spanish-language services. We made at least a few more trips during the week for CCD (religious education) classes, choir practices, weekday Masses we were assigned to serve as altar servers, event planning meetings, Bible study and more. For all us Mosqueda kids it was also where we made our First Holy Communion and were confirmed. I hoped to fulfill another sacrament there too, get married next year.

We celebrated festive occasions and sad ones there too. Lori and I both held our quinceañera Masses and receptions at SJV. It was host to the 50th wedding anniversary Masses for both Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni (1993) and Grandma and Grandpa (1994). It’s also where we held the wakes and funeral Masses for Grandma and Grandpa. And there are all the weddings. The last was Heather and Jorge’s in August.

The last Mass I attended at SJV was for the fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe in December. The church was packed, there was a lovely shrine set up for La Virgen. Lots of parishioners were dressed in Mexican garb. Aztec danzantes began the celebration with some dances. Afterward there was a big party in the O’Callaghan Center (SJV’s large multi-purpose room). I helped my mom sell drinks before getting some tacos.

That morning, I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a while. People I grew up around and saw weekly hugged me as if it hadn’t been months since the last time I was there. For some it was years, but it didn’t feel that way. I still felt the same sense of community and love I grew up with.

SJV is more than just a beautiful church. It’s the community.

I know we’re hurting, but we’re strong. We have faith. And we’ll be okay.

Second photo of the burned church from the Los Angeles Times.