EL PASO, Texas — A year ago in August, Monsignor Arturo Banuelas, a deacon and two St. Mark’s Catholic church members went to Guadalajara, Mexico, to purchase a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe for their church.
The El Paso Times reports at the time, they thought they were looking for a 4- to 5-foot statue. But while perusing the statues, they turned their eyes to a 30-foot statue, made out of cantera, a natural volcanic quarried stone.
“She had her hands folded together, saying, I want a home. And we told her, ‘Lupita, we are going to build you a home. No mas que tu estás muy grandota, y tu casita va hacer muy grande’ (it’s just that you’re big, so your house will have to be very big),” said Deacon Jesus Cardenas, who has been at St. Mark’s Church for about 25 years.
So six months ago, construction began for a special shrine to enclose the virgin — which is believed to be larger than the Mount Cristo Rey statue. The shrine is in an area between the church and parish hall.
On Saturday, parishioners inaugurated their new shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe with a three-day celebration.
“Now that she’s here, we are ready to celebrate. We are very excited,” said Banuelas, standing in front of the shrine.
The festivities include a parade, a rosary, a children’s drama of the Guadalupe apparitions before the peasant Juan Diego in 1531 and mariachis.
The official unveiling of the sand-colored statue was Sunday with a special serenata. After the fiesta, matachines began their all-night dance vigil that will end Monday evening — the feast day of the dark-skinned virgin.
The shrine features a 35-foot wall behind the statue that will have a waterfall. The statue is then flanked by three concrete block and marble finished walls on each side in descending heights.
The walls feature marble tiles with names of people who have donated to the project. The statue alone cost $12,000.
Banuelas, who was transferred to St. Mark’s from St. Pius X Catholic Church in June 2014, said this East Side community is partial to the dark virgin.
“This is a very Guadalupano parish, and we wanted to put an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe for prayer in this area. And the more we kept planning, the bigger the project got,” he said.
“Now we have an official shrine where we will gather for prayer and pilgrimage. It’s a sacred space for people to come together and a beautiful place,” he added.
Banuelas said parishioners have been preparing for this historic moment by doing works of mercy and mission service with the poor. The hall is being used as a shelter for 66 Latin American immigrants in coordination with the Annunciation House.
Banuelas said the statue had originally been an order for another church but everything fell into place so that she could be brought to El Paso.
“We had people from the parish who were able to help with importing her and the workers have been tremendous. They are working hard, saying it’s for the virgin. Since they’ve been working on it, a lot of people have felt blessings from the shine. One man that was working on it was looking for a job and he found a great job,” he said.
Banuelas said some other churches have already contacted him about having events in honor of the Blessed Mother.
“Already we have had churches ask if they can bring pilgrimages and bring their groups,” he said.
Parishioner Lorena Tabares and her daughter, Lorena Elizabeth Tabares, were excited to see the shrine project coming along.
“It brings me great joy to have her here. She deserves to have a grand monument and we appreciate her for having accepted to carry Christ in her womb and for being a mother like me,” said Lorena Tabares.
Her daughter added that she expects the statue to draw people of faith.
“I think she will be a focal point for meeting for people of the faith, to strengthen the faith and to reach out to others who are in need.”