Los Angeles -- Every December, thousands of Catholics from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles in Southern California pour out of their parishes for processions in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.
The celebration includes music, dancing, prayer and scenes from the traditional story of the Virgin Mary's appearance before an impoverished Indian named Juan Diego in December 1531. The virgin's image as an Indian woman was said to be recorded on Juan Diego's cloak during the encounter on a hilltop on the outskirts of Mexico City.
For centuries, the image of the dark-skinned virgin has endured as a symbol of unity and hope for believers throughout the world. For many, the annual feast alludes to simpler days in distant church squares.
"Devotion to Mary of Guadalupe is an expression of our faith in God," Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said. "That devotion is alive in Los Angeles, and we see it every year in the faces of the thousands of Angelenos of different ethnic communities who come together in song, prayer and procession during the ... celebrations."
Carolina Guevara, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, said an exact digital reproduction of the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe at a basilica in Mexico City will tour parishes in Southern California.
The theme of this year's event is "Mother of Our Roots, because our Blessed Mother unites us with her love as one people of God," according to Gomez.
"Our Lady of Guadalupe gives us a message of love and hope," Archbishop Gomez said. "That message still resonates in our communities, especially during these difficult times. With thousands out of work, thousands who have lost their homes, and thousands in our immigrant communities who continue to suffer because of a lack of immigration reform, she reminds us that we are not alone. She is our Mother who is always with us, protecting us, filling us with strength and uniting us in our faith."
The annual Our Lady of Guadalupe brings together thousands of Catholics from diverse ethnic communities and is the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles.
The Dec. 4 procession will be followed by a Mass celebrated by Gomez, the auxiliary bishops of Los Angeles and other clergy members at the East Los Angeles Community College Stadium.
"Every year we have the tradition of bringing together more than 15,000 devotees who receive the love and grace of the Mother of God so that they may have the true hope of a better life," said Monisgnor John Moretta, pastor of the Resurrection Church in east Los Angeles and the main coordinator of the procession.
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated every year on Dec. 12.
This article orginally appeared in Spanish on AOL Latino.
SEE PHOTOS OF PREVIOUS PROCESSIONS: