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Local parishes to host Peruvian ‘Milagros’ devotion

07 10.12.17_milagros.crowd.lima PAGEThe crowd in Lima, Peru, during the 2016 Senor de los Milagros celebration. (Photo courtesy Daniel Giannoni)

October 12, 2017
Christina Gray

Two local parishes will perpetuate a centuries-old Peruvian devotion to the sacred image of “Señor de los Milagros” (“The Lord of Miracles”) when they host traditional Masses and processions this month, according to longtime local organizers.

On Oct. 15, Mission Dolores Basilica will host a 1:30 p.m. Mass followed by a procession through the streets of the Mission District and a Peruvian reception. St. Timothy Church in San Mateo will host a similar event on Oct. 29.

“I think that people who have never seen this celebration before will feel very inspired by the whole event,” Zevedeo Heredia told Catholic San Francisco.

His mother Isabel, a native of Lima, organized the first San Francisco event in 1983 to mirror concurrent celebrations in her native city during which millions of pilgrims follow in procession behind a painted canvas with the venerated likeness of “The Lord of Miracles.”

Because of its large following, the devotion is sometimes referred to as “the world’s largest religious procession,” said Hernando Torres-Fernandez, San Francisco’s new consul general of Peru.

Torres-Fernandez is eager to share the devotion with not only San Francisco’s estimated 10,000 Peruvian immigrants but also with all Catholics.

The tradition originates with a mural of Christ painted on a wall in Lima in 1651 by an unnamed African who had been taken from what is now Angola to Peru as a slave, Torres-Fernandez explained.

The detailed painting depicts the crucifixion under the watch of the Holy Spirit and God the Father. His mother Mary’s heart is shown pierced by a metaphorical sword of sorrow while St. Mary Magdalene weeps at the foot of the cross.

The painting’s name and the devotion that followed originated after an earthquake in 1655, just a few years later. It leveled most of the city and left thousands dead, but the small adobe building with the painted wall was completely unaffected. Many considered it a miracle.

In 1670, a terminally ill resident of the city desperate for help visited the image in faith and was healed. The image quickly became a pilgrimage site, but local authorities concerned with the commotion it caused and the general lack of liturgical order, ordered the image covered up.

According to historical accounts, a workman sent to scrape the image off the wall was overcome and was physically unable to destroy it. After two more persons sent to destroy the image were not successful, the ruling leader relented and allowed the image to remain and in fact, authorized a Mass to be celebrated that is at the root of the devotion today.

For literally hundreds of years since then in Peru, the month of October is entirely given over to the celebration of The Lord of Miracles, with boulevards and pilgrims dressed each day in penitential purple.

The history of the local Peruvian celebration is far younger, according to Heredia. His mother Isabel, a recent immigrant from Peru in 1982, founded the San Francisco “Hermanidad de Senor de los Milagros” after Mgsr. Richard Knapp, now deceased, but then pastor of Mission Dolores Basilica Parish, agreed to host the first event the following year.

“Hermanidad” translates to a “brotherhood” of Peruvian men and women who are committed to carrying on the cultural and religious tradition of The Lord of Miracles.

“The objective of the brotherhood is to raise the funds to put on this special Mass and procession each year,” he said. San Francisco’s Hermanidad has about 80 members, he said, and is the oldest and the largest of Northern California’s other hermanidads located in San Mateo, San Jose, Concord, Fremont, Fresno and Sacramento.

Throughout the month of October, each regional Hermanidad hosts their event on alternating weekends, with many brotherhood members traveling to each event.

Participants in the Mission Dolores Mass to be celebrated by Bishop William J. Justice will process through the Mission District. It will proceed slowly, solemnly and silently, Heredia said.

“Being silent is another part of the tradition,” said Heredia.

 

07 10.12.17_Milagros4.founder 525px HALF+Isabel Heredia, left, and Margarita Avila co-founded the San Francisco Hermanidad Senor de los Milagros in 1982 and are pictured here with an image used in the first San Francisco procession in 1983. (Photo courtesy Daniel Giannoni)

06 10.12.17_sr milagros HALFPeru’s Senor de los Milagros (“Lord of the Miracles”) devotion dates to a mural of Christ painted on a wall in Lima in 1651 by an unnamed African slave. This contemporary image represents the original painting.

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