SAN JUAN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle – National Shrine is the epicenter of Catholic celebrations in the Rio Grande Valley.
But there is also a unique part of each mass that keeps drawing in worshipers, a mariachi band that has played in the basilica for the last 36 years.
Worshipers have come to love the sound of mariachis serenading the mass. Mariachi band member Cecilia Chavez has been a part of this tradition for the last six years. Chavez said their music is not only drawing in locals but people from across the nation.
“I just love singing for God, I love the feeling,’ Chavez said. “People do come out of town and they mention that like ‘oh my gosh, I have never seen this’, a lot of people even ask us for our music so they can go back to their hometowns and do it. And that’s amazing, we’re like yes do it.”
The Basilica Mariachi performs in both English and Spanish. Arturo Hernandez is one of the original band members. While mariachis playing inside a church may not be a common sight across the Catholic community, Hernandez said their music gives the mass a sense of excitement.
“As Father Nicolau says, we celebrate the mass as a feast,” Hernandez said “So it doesn’t necessarily have to be so lame. So that’s what I like to put some Mexican Alegria.”
The mariachi performs at six masses every Sunday at the basilica. Band members said the best thing about playing every week is seeing how their music lifts the spirits of so many people who walk through the church doors.
“I mean people cry, they come up to us and say… ‘oh my gosh, you know I felt it in my heart’,” said Band Member Elda Navarro. “And that’s so nice to hear that our music just really helps them with their spiritual experience.”
It’s not just the mariachi lifting those spirits. Monsignor Juan Nicolau was the first rector of the basilica, and worshipers will still find him singing along. Nicolau said it is the mariachi that makes the basilica unique.
“Mariachi is very important because I was the first one that had a mass with mariachi, and in the valley, it was a scandal, and now everybody wants mariachi,” said Nicolau. “Because I realize that this is the music of my people, it’s the music of the people here in the valley.”
Even though band members have come and gone through the years, the basilica mariachi plans to keep playing their music for worshipers for many years to come.”
“They call it the Mal Del Charro. Which means once you put on this suit, it won’t come off in your lifetime,” Chavez said.
“It will continue, only God knows. But I think this tradition will continue,’ Hernandez said.