Celebrations of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s feast day came two days early in Greenfield on Sunday. Nearly two thousand individuals came out to participate in the hour-long procession including Aztec dancers, costumed native bands, women in embroidered dresses and many caballeros on horseback.

The crowd assembled outside of Holy Trinity Church to attend an outdoor Mass and watch their pastor, the Rev. Enrique Herrera, 49, receive the highest honor Catholic Extension, a Chicago-based charitable organization bestows.

The Rev. Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, presented the award. He was joined by Monterey Bishop Ricardo Garcia, Retired Monterey Bishop Sylvester Ryan and others officiating at the Mass.

“Father Enrique, it is my privilege,” Wall said, ” … to present the Lumen Christi Award for your loving service as pastor and for your great personal commitment to nurturing the ‘Light of Christ’ among Greenfield’s most vulnerable citizens, especially the poor, youth, families, students, workers and immigrants.”

“The award has been given out for forty years but this is only the third time it’s come to California and the very first time to the Diocese of Monterey.”

Native marchers, dressed in richly embroidered costumes and jingling rhythmic percussion instruments began the fiesta by parading in front of the altar.

Herrera found himself in a town whose schools faced closing, whose essential public services were threatened with cutbacks.

“When I came here to this town, I discovered the needs of the people,” he said. “First I started with the public, inviting them to be part of the school district meetings. That’s where I started my career here.”

“I started working with the city manager, police department and mayor,’ he said, “you know, as an apostle of the Catholic church, I am not only looking out for the spiritual support of the people, but I like to encourage the people to be good citizens. Because if we have good citizens, we will have good Catholics.”

Herrera has seen to it that the Food Bank distributes food in Greenfield, that flu shots are available to residents and that children of farmworkers are getting support to pursue higher education.

“I have more than 20 young people from Greenfield attending UCLA, San Jose State, and other colleges in California,” he said. “We support them with scholarships. They start at Hartnell and can transfer to a university.”

Full story at The Californian.