BELEN–This 229th annual Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church Fiesta will be put on at full capacity this year — three days of good food, music, dancing under the carpa, a parade, car show, carnival and more.
As parishioners and community members anxiously await the opportunity to celebrate together, Father Clement Niggel says the theme of this year’s fiesta, “Lord, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” says it all.
“This year’s Fiestas, hopefully, will be the best we’ve had in the whole 229 years,” Niggel said. “It’s so exciting to get them going after the two-year long pandemic.”
Niggel said the three-day long event will be jam packed with everything from a carnival, food and vendor booths, music and the community.
“We just want to bring people together to have lots of fun,” the local pastor said. “The theme is based on the prayer of St. Francis. All of us are called to do God’s work, and each of us are called to share the love of God. Everybody is our neighbor. Everybody is our friend. Everybody is who we’re called to pray for.”
Niggel said because “we are all one,” the entire community should come together and celebrate at the Fiestas.
Having a carnival at this year’s event, Niggel said, was a nice surprise this year because 50 percent of all carnivals have closed because of the pandemic. The pastor said the Fiesta committee had to change the date of this year’s event because of the carnival’s schedule.
“Typically, (the Fiestas) are on the weekend closest to our Feast Day, which is on Aug. 15,” Niggel said. “When we were able to get the carnival, they were only able to come in the following week, so we had to switch everything over.”
Father Niggel said one tradition returning to this year’s Fiesta is the burning of Old Man Quejas (worries). The tradition began in the early 1970s, and has been done sporadically throughout the years.
“It should be a lot of fun,” Niggel said. “I’ve been watching them design and building it. It’s looking wonderful.
“There was a lot of debate what it should look like because in the early years, it was a devil or a man. This year, we’re trying to make it look like an old worried man. People will be able to bring their worries written on paper and we’ll put them in right before we ignite it.”
This year’s padrinos are Steven and Stephanie Gutierrez, and Joseph and Catherine Chavez.
“It’s an honor, definitely, especially for the parish we know and love,” said Steven Gutierrez.
His wife, Stephanie agrees, saying they’ve raised their children in the church, each having been baptized, First Holy Communion and two are currently taking confirmation classes.
“It’s an honor to be selected for something so special for Our Mother,” Stephanie said. “It’s a blessing really.”
The Gutierrezes are hoping they’ll be able to celebrate the Fiestas how it used to before the pandemic with the community coming together.
The Chavezes were both born and raised in Belen and at Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church.
“We went to catechism together; we’ve known each other for a long time,” Joseph said.
“Our families have always gone to this church,” Catherine said.
“It’s a blessing and an honor (to be named padrinos),” she added. “We’ve been blessed with a great family, a future and to give back to the church as been an honor.
“We’re excited to see everyone again,” she said. Everyone has been cooped up because of COVID, we’re just looking forward to mingle and visit.”
For John and Holly Chavez the Fiestas are always a good time to visit with friends and family. Both said they are excited to be named this year’s parade marshals.
“This is very exciting,” John said. “My dad was on the Fiesta Committee years ago, and it’s part of Valencia County’s history and culture. To be asked to be the parade marshal’s is so humbling.”
Holly said being part of the annual Fiestas is wonderful, saying they’ve been volunteers at the church for a long time.
“We were really surprised, and it’s a really sweet opportunity,” Holly said. “It’s not hard, but it’s special. We appreciate it, but knowing we represent the volunteer groups of the church.”
Bryan Mascarena has been booking the entertainment for OLB Fiestas for many years, and says this year’s lineup is one of the best.
“This year is going to be great,” Mascarena said. “The layout of the Fiestas is going to be different because the carnival needs to be on cement, so the stage will be one the south side.
“We have a lot of good entertainment this year. We have Severo y Grupo Fuego headlining on Sunday night. They’re one of the best bands in the state,” Mascarena said. “We actually have a band from Socorro, Suavecito, which is going to headline Saturday night.”
Mascarena is excited to have a band from Pecos, Peter Vigil and the All Star Band, who he says is a concert band that will perform on Saturday from 6-8 p.m.
“He gets the best musicians from the state of New Mexico,” he said. “They play Al Hurricane type of music, where you don’t necessarily have to dance, but can watch. They’re really good.”
Other local bands scheduled to perform are the Top Notch Band, from Belen, and the Ralph Miramontes Band and Tori Murillo Band.
There will be a couple of new events at the Fiestas, including a cornhole tournament on Saturday, and a horse shoe tournament on Sunday. Of course, the traditional events, such as bingo, a dance contest, and the Salo Garcia Chile Contest rounds out the event.
Our Lady of Belen Fiestas Schedule of Events
Friday, Aug. 19
5 p.m.: Bingo doors open, bingo at 6 p.m.
6 p.m.: Open Mic
7 p.m.: Dance with DJ Wayne Gallegos
7:30 p.m.: Dance Contest
9 p.m.: Burning of Old Man Quejas
10 p.m.: Closing
Saturday, Aug. 20
10 a.m.: Parade
11 a.m.: Car show
11 a.m.: Booths and carnival open
12 p.m.: Cornhole tournament
12 p.m.: Ana Maria y Sangre Latino
1 p.m.: Top Notch Band
2:30 p.m.: Cadillac Whiskey
3:45 p.m.: Ralph Miramontes Band
4:45 p.m.: Tori Murillo Band
5 p.m.: bingo doors open, bingo at 6 p.m.
6 p.m.: Peter Vigil and the All Star Band
8:15 p.m.: Suavecito
11 p.m.: Closing
Sunday, Aug. 21
8:30 a.m.: Breakfast burritos sale in the Parish Hall
1 p.m.: Booths and carnival open
1 p.m.: Horse shoe tournament
1 p.m.: Rose Elva and the Crew
1 p.m.: Bingo doors open, bingo at 2 p.m.
2:15 p.m.: Luna Upfront
3 p.m.: Salo Garcia Chile Contest
3:30 p.m.: Impression
5 p.m.: Cisne Dance Group
5:30 p.m.: Live auction
6 p.m.: Severo y Grupo Fuego
8 p.m.: Raffle drawing and closing
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.