By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - They came to the Cathedral bearing candles and flowers at 5 a.m.
At Saint Charles Church in Carthage, one man stood outside for an hour before that, waiting to express his devotion.
Friday was a special day for the estimated 122,000 people of Mexican origin living in Ohio and Kentucky. On Dec. 12, many of them gather in Catholic churches for the feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe, or Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In Mexico, the day is as important as Christmas, says Edgar Ley, 31, who lives in Florence and attended Friday's ceremonies at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington.
According to Catholic tradition, in 1531 the Virgin Mary appeared before Juan Diego, an Indian peasant outside of Mexico City. She expressed her love for his people and urged him to have the bishop build a church in her name.
Within 10 years after the apparitions, millions of Aztecs had been converted to Christianity and baptized Catholic.
On Dec. 12 in Mexico, many businesses are closed and people go to their churches with flowers and other gifts to lay at the feet of the virgin.
On a smaller scale, Greater Cincinnati churches offer the same devotions. At 5 a.m. on Friday, the Cathedral in Covington and St. Charles in Carthage opened for Las MaŅanitas, an hour of prayer, music and readings.
Evening Masses were held at both churches.
"People take this day very seriously," said Sister Juana Mendez, director of the Centro de Amistad at the Cathedral. "They take off from work."
St. Charles' priest, the Rev. William Jansen, expected 550 worshipers for Friday evening's Mass.
St. Charles began celebrating the feast of Our Lady three years ago, when Jansen arrived. He knew how important it was to the Mexican community.
In that first year, "Without even advertising, we had 300 people here," Jansen said.
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