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The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has a particular importance in Calhoun, where the second oldest image was found in 1984 at an archaeological site on the Coosawattee River. It is believed that the plaque was made in Mexico and brought to the United States by Spaniards. Somehow the copper plaque was given to a Native American child as an teaching tool or a sign of friendship.
Source: Joseph Shoute, priest at St. Clement's Catholic Church in Calhoun, Ga.
CALHOUN, Ga. -- Wearing a red dress and green mantle covered with stars, Judith Anguiano Palmerin stood in the parking lot outside Kmart, twiddled her fingers and sometimes bit her nails. But she never stopped smiling.
The 16-year-old portrayed the Virgin Mary, whom Mexicans often call Our Lady of Guadalupe. St. Mary is considered to be Mexico's symbolic mother and patroness of the Americas. Hundreds of people behind Judith prepared to sing and dance in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Since the late 1990s, this small North Georgia city has celebrated Dec. 12, a day that marks the last of four apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe before a peasant in Mexico in 1531, according to Father Joseph Shaute of St. Clement's Catholic Church.
The Virgin of Guadalupe asked Juan Diego, the peasant, to tell the bishop she wanted a temple built on the hill where he stood. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego and asked for proof of what he had seen and heard.
As proof, St. Mary asked Juan Diego to gather some roses from the hill and take them to the archbishop. When Juan Diego showed him the roses he was carrying in his mantle, an image of St. Mary appeared on it, Shoute said.
"Within 10 or 15 years of the apparition, Mexico had become about 90 percent Catholic," he said. "Ever since, the celebration of Guadalupe has been the most important of the year in Mexico and other parts of Central America as well."
Sunday's celebrations started with a two-mile procession from Kmart to the Calhoun Civic Center, past pawn shops, furniture stores and car dealerships.
With the Mexican and United States flags at the front, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal benefit organization, led several hundred people in the procession. Following were those representing the Virgin of Guadalupe, Juan Diego and the bishop.
Groups of women dressed in black and purple prayed and sang to the virgin. A group of four took turns carrying the shrines decorated with red and pink roses.
The celebration also included two groups of religious dancers, the matachines and an Aztec dance group.
The sound of drums marked the beat as the old and young, with rattles and elaborate headdresses danced in unison, making music with bells around their ankles.
Melissa Fraire, 12, started dancing when she was eight and has participated in the procession every year since.
"I'm dancing for her [Our Lady of Guadalupe]. That's the best thing we can do," said the Calhoun native as she chugged a bottle of water. She still had about a mile more to go.
After the procession, a dramatization of the apparitions of St. Mary to Juan Diego and a mass were held.
That was Judith's big moment. She had never spoken in public before, but the petite girl spoke in a calm voice to a packed auditorium.
The main goal of events like this, Shaute said, is to foster greater understanding about religious celebrations from other parts of the world.
"Whatever a person's faith, I think it's something we can appreciate and admire when there's great energy and authenticity," he said.