JULIO PRADO'S face was softly lit by candlelight as he walked around the grounds of St. Anthony Catholic Church.
With his mother, Maria Delaluz, not too far behind, they were among the more than 200 worshipers who were guided by the glow of their candles, re-enacting the story of Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search for shelter before Jesus Christ's birth.
The procession of a large group of pilgrims happened on Monday, the second night of the nine-day celebration called Las Posadas. "Posada" means lodging or shelter in Spanish.
Delaluz said the lively tradition was a big part of her life while growing up in Michoacan, Mexico.
The 34-year-old Redwood City resident still remembers walking through her neighborhood smelling the cut pine laid out in people's homes, drinking punch, and seeing the hangingpinatas on the porch.
"You knew everybody," Delaluz said. "You greet them, and then they greet you. You build a spirit."
Las Posadas has been observed for at least the last 200 years in Mexico. It appeals to a value which is already inherent in their culture the importance of hospitality, said Fr. James Garcia of St. Anthony's.
"By celebrating Posadas, Latinos re-learn a need for hospitality each year," he said Wednesday. "(Also), it reaffirms their faith in God who became human in Jesus. Since Jesus has identified himself with the smallest, with the least ... they welcome the savior who has hidden himself in our humanity."
Just outside St. Anthony's, the crowd looped around the church and were rejected twice for shelter. Among the group were four men carrying the statues of Mary and Joseph guided by an angel on their shoulders.
Singing in Spanish, they pleaded at the third stop the church's entrance this time saying that Mary is carrying the child of God. They were allowed shelter.
Josefa Sanchez said she has organized the Las Posadas observance for close to nine years to serve God.
"I trust Him, because He helped me so much," the Redwood City resident said. "I couldn't walk before. I was in a wheelchair. And when I prayed (a lot), then I walked."
Sanchez said five years ago, doctors weren't able to explain why, all of a sudden, she couldn't walk for two months.
She added that her mother had a host of health problems last year and wasn't expected to live much longer. Sanchez prayed to the Virgin Mary to help her mother.
"My mother is alive right now," she said.
After the procession, families were treated with more music and dinner. Seated at one of the tables, Maria Delaluz's son has participated in three other Posadas over the years.
"You're doing something good for your religious beliefs," Julio said. "Some people think it's not necessary to come, but I take it seriously. It's the day Jesus Christ was born."
Staff writer Christine Morente covers faith, families and North County. She can be reached at 650-348-4333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.