(Original publication: August 7, 2006)

GARRISON — Manuel and Gladys Bayolimo were among hundreds who came to Graymoor yesterday to honor a farmer and Chichimec Indian peasant who became the Americas’ first indigenous Catholic saint.

St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin’s four visions of the Virgin Mary on a hilltop outside Mexico City from Dec. 9 to 12, 1531, led to his canonization by Pope John Paul II four years ago.

"It’s very special for the Catholic community, and we’re very happy to be here, because this is not every day what’s happening here," Manuel Bayolimo said. "Every day is a big celebration for our Catholic community. And I believe it’s growing and growing every single day right here in the United States."

A Spanish-language Mass preceded a lengthy procession that stopped four times to commemorate each of Juan Diego’s visions as worshippers sang the hymn "A Tu Amor Nos Acojemos."

Diane Morocho, 17, of Peekskill, portrayed Our Lady of Guadalupe, sitting piously in a chair in the flatbed of a slow-moving pickup at the head of the procession. Claudio Pulla, 15, of Tarrytown portrayed Juan Diego. At each stop, the two re-enacted one of the visions.

Little girls in red velvet dresses and flowery lace tops marched ahead of others carrying a statue of the Virgin Mother while a marching band played at the rear. The procession ended with an afternoon barbecue.

Though closely tied to Mexico, Juan Diego is held dear by Latinos of many nationalities, as evidenced the many Ecuadorean and Guatemalan worshippers yesterday, said the Rev. Bob Langone, assistant director of Graymoor’s Spiritual Life Center.

Juan Diego was born in 1474 and was baptized by a Franciscan missionary at age 50. He died in 1548 and was buried in the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. He was beatified on May 6, 1990, by Pope John Paul II in Mexico City.

The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, the order that runs Graymoor, hosts the annual event as part of its outreach to the Hispanic community.

Francisco Hermida, 46, of Highland Falls has helped organize the event since its inception. He said worshippers come from different backgrounds.

On Sundays, Hermida and others lead a 25-minute hike through the woods near the nearby Appalachian Trail to a shrine known as Virgen Misionera Madre de los Inmigrantes that draws large crowds each week.

"We try to preserve our culture and to teach the children," he said. "It means a lot to the whole Latino community."

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