A tsunami of love took place for nearly 700 East Bay children on December 15. The epicenter was in Oakland at the Cathedral of Christ the Light where children from schools in Contra Costa and Alameda counties were treated to a day-long celebration and fiesta. The event was based on universal human values emerging from the story of the 16th century apparition in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The day was offered free by Francis in the Schools, a nonprofit group located in Walnut Creek. The program seeks to lift the hearts of children from families of modest means and send them home with lasting memories that will be a source of happiness and inspiration.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Featured
The Oakland program was built around the feast day celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, considered by many of Hispanic heritage to be “The Mother of the Americas.” Her shrine in Mexico City is the most visited pilgrimage site in the Western hemisphere. For indigenous people and the poor, she has been a symbol of hope, love, and compassion for nearly five centuries. Because she appeared in Mexico to a poor farmer, Juan Diego, her story was particularly meaningful to the children at the Oakland event, eighty percent of whom were Latino.
The children were greeted by dancers wearing elaborate feather headdresses and dressed in gold and white in the manner of Mexico’s indigenous people. As the children entered the cathedral, musicians wearing native costumes played guitar. Then each child was handed a single red rose by children from the Youth Chorale of the Meher Schools in Walnut Creek, after which each child could place their rose on a large cloth representing Our Lady of Guadalupe’s garment. In the story of her apparition, red roses play a major role.
Musical Drama and Fiesta Provided
The day began with an original musical play in which giant puppets ten-feet tall joined actors, dancers, and a narrator to tell the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The “take away” messages in the play were to have courage, do your best, not worry, and feel that all people are important and part of one human family.
Following the play, the children went by chartered bus to the Scottish Rite Temple. There they enjoyed a homemade lunch and delighted in playing games, dancing, and creating flower baskets of roses, dahlias, daisies, and tulips to take home to their families. And they were thrilled to have their faces painted as wolves, fairies, butterflies, and with emblems of the Golden State Warriors.
Because many of the participating schools lacked the resources to take children on field trips, arrangements were made for charter buses to take them to and from the Oakland venues.
Universal Values Communicated
Although the event was staged at a Catholic cathedral and the story was grounded in Catholic lore, the messages of love, kindness, and compassion are universal and transcend any one religion. Francis in the Schools is a non-sectarian program in which people of all beliefs collaborate to touch the hearts of children through a cultural vehicle that is meaningful to them.
Francis in the Schools is staffed 100 percent by volunteers who believe that it is a privilege to be of service to these children. All programs are funded solely by donations, largely from the volunteers themselves. The program is aided by the generous help of local flower growers who donate thousands of fresh blooms for the children’s flower baskets. Local retailers donate ingredients for the delicious cookies and cupcakes that are baked and individually decorated and wrapped for each child to take home as a special “gift treat” remembrance.
Francis in the Schools was founded by Dr. Carol Weyland Conner of Walnut Creek who also founded the award-winning White Pony Express Food Rescue program and the Free General Store serving Contra Costa County. This was the twenty-first program presented by Francis in the Schools since it started in 2011, bringing the number of children hosted to nearly 11,000 at programs held in San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
More volunteers are sought and welcomed in the Francis in the Schools program. Donations are tax deductible and are used 100 percent on behalf of the children.
To learn how to volunteer or donate, please visit the website: FrancisInTheSchools.org. For more information, contact Barbara Shaw Cohen at 212-531-2303, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org