At a service Sunday afternoon, bursting with flowers, resounding with music and full of lavish food, the congregation at St. Patrick Catholic Church paid tribute to the "Mother of the Americas," known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.


The service, which began with the carrying of an icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe through the streets of Apalachicola, and then by parishioners on their knees to the altar, is in celebration of a happening in 1531 Mexico, when Catholic accounts say the Virgin Mary appeared four times before a native peasant, Juan Diego, and once more before his uncle, at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac, which would become part of Villa de Guadalupe, in a suburb of Mexico City.


According to the accounts, the woman, speaking to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec Empire), identified herself as the Virgin Mary, and was said to have asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor.


The teaching is that Juan Diego was instructed by Our Lady to climb to the top of the hill to gather flowers to bring back as proof to the bishop, and at the crest of the hill, he found Castilian roses, which were neither in season nor native to the region. The Blessed Mother arranged the flowers herself in Juan’s tilma (a burlap-type cloak) and instructed him to open the cloak only upon return to the bishop.


When Juan Diego arrived back at the bishop’s residence and opened his cloak, the flowers fell to the floor and left on the surface of the tilma was the image that’s come to be known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”


Layla Gregorio, her father Mario Gregorio and her aunt Reyna Andres helped lead the service, which featured a band of musicians from the church who performed religious music, and then later at the feast afterwards, where they mixed their sound with Spanish language Christmas carols.


Layla Gregorio said the band often plays in Blountstown, where there is an active Hispanic Catholic community.


Father Roger Latosynski said in recent years, the Latin American community in Franklin County has gotten smaller, and that the mainly Mexican community has been succeeded by a largely Guatemalan one.


He said after the retirement of a bilingual nun, the church cancelled the Sunday evening Spanish language Mass.


Johnnie Byrd, an Eucharist minister, said the church has stepped up its outreach to bring Hispanic Catholics into participation with its regular English language Mass services.


The evening event concluded with a lavish feast in the fellowship hall.