Santa Marian Kamalen devotees reflect on traditions passed down

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By Anne Marie Rodriguez
Umatuna Si Yu’os

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is nearing and the island’s faithful are anticipating the joyous celebration of our island’s patroness, Santa Marian Kamalen (Our Lady of Camarin).

For more than 300 years, the statue of Santa Marian Kamalen has been venerated by thousands of devotees who gather in Hagåtña every year on Dec. 8 to show their love and devotion to Our Lady.

One such devotee is Michaelean Arroyo who this week discussed her devotion to Our Lady.  “It all started when I was a little girl,” said Arroyo.

Inspired by her grandmothers, Maria O’Brien and Oliva Arroyo, the younger Arroyo learned to appreciate and grow in love with the devotion to Santa Marian Kamalen.

“Growing up, that was the most exciting time of my life,” Arroyo shared, saying that Dec. 8 was when her family would all come together to pray the novena and be in each other’s presence. She also said that she and her family always look forward to Dec. 8 because it’s “the time we can celebrate that moment for her.

“[Santa Marian Kamalen] is our Lady of our island. I always had this strong feeling for her, this devotion. … I just have all respect for her.”

Arroyo said that her “prumesa” (meaning “promise”) to Our Lady, ever since her oldest daughter was young, was to serve with the children designated as angels on Our Lady’s feast day. For about 25 years, Arroyo kept this promise. “It’s always been that devotion of honor and respect,” said Arroyo.

One of Arroyo’s greatest wishes is to see today’s youth continue to uphold the traditions of our “manåmko’” (elders) and attend the procession every year to honor and love the protectress of our island home.

A longtime devotee — long before she can remember — “kamarera” and former First Lady of Guam, Geraldine Gutierrez also took time to discuss her dedication to Our Lady.

“All my life, she’s been the beacon,” said Gutierrez.

Gutierrez and her family have been taking care of the historic statue of Santa Marian Kamalen all their lives. This involves preparing the statue for processions, brushing her hair and cleaning and maintaining her image. It was a task that was entrusted to the Torres family to uphold and was passed down from generation to generation.

“Ever since we were children, Santa Marian Kamalen has always been with our family, with the ‘kamareras,’ for so many years,” she said.

Gutierrez said that her grandmother, Mariquita Torres Souder, was the “kamarera” for more than 70 years but when she passed, Gutierrez, and Souder’s daughters Laura Souder and Debbie Souder Frades have since taken care of Our Lady.

As the Torres women prepare for the upcoming feast day, they also train the young girls to clean the jewelry of the Kamalen statue. “All the little ones come down and they all bring their toothbrushes,” Gutierrez shared. “They look forward to it. To us, this is such an honor — it’s such a privilege to be able to do this for Santa Maria, and to be able to be so close to her.

“We believe with all our hearts that Santa Maria is so miraculous. Whenever we have a crisis in our lives or things are not going quite right, first thing we do is—we don’t look for a doctor—the first thing we do is get down on our knees and we say the ‘Tres Ave Maria.’ To me, that is a very miraculous prayer because sometimes you don’t feel that she’s answering our prayers, but sooner or later we figure out that really and truly, it was an answer to our prayers.”

Nightly novenas for the feast of Santa Marian Kamalen begin this Friday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m., followed by Mass at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagåtña. See page 8 of this issue for the full schedule of novena and Masses for the celebration. Biba Santa Maria!