Guadalupe service draws thousands to St. Rocco

Musicians and singers added to the festivities of the Guadalupe service.
Musicians and singers added to the festivities of the Guadalupe service. Chris Barber — Digital First Media
Church members in MExicanb garb pose beside the Guadalupe shrine.
Church members in MExicanb garb pose beside the Guadalupe shrine. Chris Barber — Digital First Media

NEW GARDEN >> The Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration isn’t Christmas, but it’s just as joyful for the local Mexican population.

From Monday evening until late on Tuesday several thousand communicants of St. Rocco Church filled the adobe-like cathedral on Sunnydell Road and paid homage to the miracle that occurred on Dec. 12, 1531 in South America.

Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrates the legend that has religious, national and celebratory aspects.

According to story, the Virgin Mary appeared to a man named Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531. She asked him to create a shrine in her name at the location where he appeared, which is called Tepeyac Hill near what now Mexico City. When Diego told the local bishop about it, the bishop told him he needed some evidence before he would build anything. Fortunately for Diego, the Virgin appeared again and told him to collected roses and put them in his cloak. Diego did so, and when he returned to the bishop and opened his cloak the roses had proliferated. When they fell out, there was an image of the Virgin on the inside of his cloak.

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The ceremony is especially meaningful to the people of southern Chester County who have Mexican backgrounds and connections, because their church was completed recently — in 2011 — thanks to the contribution of Wilmington banker Rocco Abessinio, who told them he felt a kinship to the Catholic St. Rocco because he had the same name. He told them he gave the money because he felt so blessed.

It is the only church in the first national parish designated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for Hispanics. The St. Rocco National Hispanic parish specifically serves the Hispanic community. It is led by Monsignor Frank Depman, who not only handles the ecclesiastical duties but the social needs of his flock and day-to-day business of the church as well.

The church serves an estimated 12,000 people, and they turned out in great numbers not only to the initial service on Monday night, but the four services the next day. Depman said the standing room only on Monday night lasted well into the early morning hours, and said the crowd at the 6 p.m. Tuesday service lining the aisles was typical.

The traffic swelled on Route 41 to the point where police lights and traffic officers kept the comings and goings of cars orderly.

As for the services, they are colorful and joyous.

Many of the members arrive in Mexican garb, and they dress their children in native costumes as well. The church is widely decorated with roses, and a shrine at the front of the church depicts a mountain, flowers and a statue of Mary. Out in the patio there is also a lighted shrine where people pay their respects and drop off bouquets of roses.

Providing the atmosphere for the services are lusty choirs and musicians. Later in the service, a group of musical brass instrument musicians play a loud tribute to the Virgin.

Depman, traditionally modest about his contribution to the church’s leadership wore a festal chasuble that depicted the Virgin and a string of roses.

With its construction in 2011, St. Rocco church replaced Spanish language services that were held as auxiliary ceremonies for various Catholic churches around southern Chester County.

According to Catholic literature, Saint Rocco is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as the protector against the plague and all contagious diseases. His body is enclosed in a glass tomb in the church of San Rocco in Venice, Italy.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .