–At the Mission Helpers’ Mission in Manzanita, Venezuela
The annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16, is a major feast day in Venezuela, and especially in the 16 villages of the Buria District and its capital, the village of Manzanita, which is home to the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the area’s patroness saint and the name of an 18th century church founded by the Franciscan Capuchin missionaries. That church was long gone when the Mission Helpers came to this undeveloped and impoverished region in 1990. There had been no church and no church presence in the district for many decades; the nearest priest was many miles away.
The first Sisters began their ministry by setting up a tiny worship space that has since blossomed into Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. The church also serves as a community and outreach center for the villagers. It is the center of social and spiritual life in the region.
For the people of the Manzanita region, the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a weeklong event. Here is a recap of last year’s festivities:
The celebration began a week before the actual Feast Day with prayer services in all of the villages. On the Sunday before the Feast Day, Bishop Antonio Jose Lopez Castillo celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation. Twenty-two teenagers made Confirmation, among them were 12 Guajiros (indigenous people) from Yuba tribe who live at the Barquisimeto Boys Town.
To help the young people celebrate their Confirmation, the Mission Helpers organized a concert with a Christian Catholic band from city of Barquisimeto, the capital of Lara State.
The Feast Day itself began at 6:00 a.m. when women from the community prepared a meal that was served to everyone following the 10 a.m. Solemn Mass. At the Mass, 30 children from the villages made First Communion. At 3:00 p.m. the rosary was recited and at 4:00 the procession began.
More than 300 people came from the district villages as well as from villages across Lara State. They processed with the revered statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, leaving the church at 4:00 p.m., walking a distance of about six miles, and returning to the church at 7:30. There was a final blessing, followed by fireworks.