Susan Blaze prays to Our Lady of Guadalupe daily, thanking her for her blessings and miracles.
Each year, Blaze, a native of Mexico, celebrates the mother of Jesus with a fiesta worthy of her home country.
"It's like being in Mexico," Blaze said of the Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, being held Wednesday night at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. "We do the typical dances and sing the traditional songs."
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik will serve as the principal celebrant for the sixth annual event locally, commemorating the apparition of the Virgin to a Mexican peasant, St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, in 1531.
The Mass is held in coordination with the Latino Catholic community from the parishes of St. Regis in Oakland, St. Paul in Butler and Holy Rosary in Muse, Washington. It attracts nearly a thousand people each year. All are welcome.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico's most popular religious image. Devotees believe she can perform miracles and cure almost any sickness. Almost 5 million people attend the annual services in her honor in the Basilica of Guadalupe north of Mexico City.
Blaze, 49, moved to Canonsburg to be close to relatives eight years ago. Since then, she has been active in Holy Rosary Church, which hosts a weekly Spanish Mass, to keep her traditions alive for her two daughters.
"I always wanted them to know the customs," she said.
Blaze said the appearance of the Lady of Guadalupe to peasant Juan Diego was the true beginning of Catholicism in Mexico. Spain brought the religion into the country, but few believed until the Virgin appeared, she said.
"She has performed so many miracles through the years," Blaze said. "She's part of my daily life. It's like talking to a mother. I cannot even explain it."
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin called the local Mass "a reflection of faith" and pointed out the importance of "honoring Mary, mother of Jesus, especially at this time of year."
"It's a very special feast for those who worship here and in Mexico," he said. "People here want to be part of it."
Census data show that the Hispanic population grew nearly 8 percent in the 10-county Pittsburgh region from 2010 to 2011. About 5 percent of Western Pennsylvanians regularly speak something other than English, according to Census figures.
Victor Diaz, a member of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's board, said he has seen an increase in immigrants because of the agency's efforts to attract them. The agency works to recruit workers from other cities with higher Hispanic populations, such as Baltimore, Miami and Houston, that were hit harder than Pittsburgh during the recession.
"We are targeting the labor force," Diaz said. "Pittsburgh has affordable housing and good schools."
The Rev. Daniele Vallecorsa, pastor at the Parish of St. Regis and coordinator of Latino ministry in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said a regional celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe began in 2000 and attracted a few hundred people.
"As the years went by, the number of people grew," he said. "A lot of non-Latinos wanted to join."
Vallecorsa called the event "an outward expression of popular religiosity."
"It allows people to celebrate their faith consistent with what they have done in their home nation," he said. "They are far from their families and friends. They want to gather with people of their same culture."
Mariana Munoz, 53, of Canonsburg, said Our Lady of Guadalupe helped her through several difficult times in her life, including two cancer diagnoses and open-heart surgery. Munoz, who is healthy and cancer-free, traveled to the Basilica of Guadalupe after recovering from her successful treatment for lymphoma to pay homage to the Lady.
"I believe in her so much because she's done miracles for me, too," said Munoz, a Mexico native who moved to Canonsburg for her husband's job in 1990. "Thanks to the Lady of Guadalupe, I'm still here."
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