BELEN — Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church Fiestas is much more than the Fiesta burgers, the music or the rides — it’s about community.

The theme for this year’s Fiestas — the 226th — is “Gather your People, O Lord,” and Father Clement Niggel said it’s exactly what the annual event is all about.

This year’s Our Lady of Belen Fiesta padrinos are Ed and Lisa Baca and Julie and Kevin Benavidez.
Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photos

The padrinos, who are patrons or sponsors, for this year’s Fiestas are Ed and Lisa Baca and Kevin and Julie Benavidez. Both couples have been married for 25 years.

“It’s an honor to be part of the 226-year tradition,” said Ed Baca.

“We’re long-time parishioners and we feel honored that we were chosen to be part of it.”

Lisa said she feels blessed, because their faith means a lot to them. Ed feels the same, but said being able to serve the community and the church “is a good thing.”

Kevin and Julie Benavidez agreed it’s an honor to be chosen as padrinos for the Fiestas.

“It’s an awesome celebration of our faith,” Julie said. “It’s like God asking us to serve, and it’s an awesome responsibility to carry on the tradition. We’re just so excited to serve. I think it’s a calling from God.”

This year’s parade marshals are Charles and JoAnna Montoya.

“Growing up Catholic, my mom was very strong in the Catholic faith, and she instilled that in all of my brothers and sisters and I,” Kevin said. “Being part of this church is a very important part of our lives, our kids and our community. To be chosen, it’s an honor.”

Both couples believe being padrinos is serving the Lord as well as serving the church, and showing others that God is important and has a strong hold on the community.

The Benavidez’s served as Christmas padrinos about 10 years ago, and his parents served as padrinos of the mission church in Casa Colorada several years ago. Ed’s parents served as padrinos at the mission church in Los Chavez.

Fr. Clement Niggel

“We’re excited to bring the community together, and it’s a family event,” Julie said.

They all said their favorite part of the Fiestas is the green chile cheese burgers, but the music and rides are a close second. Although Julie changed her mind, and said she really enjoys the carpa dances.

“Many people have told me they met their spouses at the carpa dances,” Julie said. “Who knew it was a match-making place. And they’re still dancing until the last song.”

Charles and JoAnna Montoya were asked and they accepted the honor of being this year’s parade marshals. Both said it’s an honor to be chosen.

“It was shocking; it came out of nowhere,” said JoAnna when she learned of the invitation to be parade marshals.

“It’s an honor,” said Charles.

Both having grown up Catholic and attending Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church, the Montoyas will lead the parade on Saturday morning.

The Fiesta Queen candidates are Grace Romero, 16, and Cassandra Lueras, 18, and the Jr. Princess candidates are Genevive Sanchez, 10, Ember Benavidez, 7, Apollonia Sanchez, 6, and Isabella Carrillo, 7, not pictured.

Bryan Mascarena, who has organized the music entertainment for many years for the Fiestas, said this year won’t disappoint. On Friday night, local favorites — Kevin Michael Band and Daniel Solis Band — will take the stage.

He said one of the highlights of this year’s entertainment will be on Saturday night. A tribute to Ernestine Romero, who died last month and who performed at the Fiestas for six or seven year, will be held by other entertainers.

Father Clement Niggel, Our Lady of Belen’s pastor, is excited for this year’s celebration.

“Every year is a wonderful extravaganza and we have a wonderful line up this year,” Niggel said. “It’s not about the Fiestas, it’s a about community and coming together as a community and spending that time getting to know each other.

“I hope all community members come and enjoy the fun, the festivities, the food, the music, the rides and the company,” he said. “That’s what it’s about — to bring the community together. As our Lord prayed in the Gospel of Matthew … ‘‘that we all might be one.’ And that’s what we do at the Fiestas, we all come together as one.”

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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.