'Day of the Dead' celebration to draw solemn crowd

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comOctober 31, 2012 

— The long-standing tradition of honoring the dead with a solemn procession to an 1800s cemetery in the near-ghost town of Hornitos will be celebrated again Friday.

All Souls' Day, known as Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos in Mexico, is a Catholic tradition and one that's long been kept alive in Hornitos and is gaining interest.

The Rev. Steve Bulfer of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Mariposa has been leading the procession for two decades.

"It's basically a festival that's celebrated in Mexico and it involves families going to the gravesites of family members who have died," he said.

Visitors to Hornitos, which sometimes total up to 450, will proceed up a road lined with more than 500 luminaries Friday night to the cemetery that's peppered with century-old gravestones, many of them for children.

Once the procession reaches the cemetery, guests surround the grave of Dona Candelaria De Sapien, a Hornitos resident of Mexican descent who died in the early 1900s and is responsible for bringing the tradition to the small town in Mariposa County.

After arriving at her grave, prayers and blessings are offered before a sprinkling of holy water and lighting of incense. Visitors then spread out and place their lit candles at the base of various tombstones.

Following the ceremony, some attend a Mass in a small church adjacent to the graveyard while others go back down to the Hornitos plaza for a reception at the Golden Stag Hall. St. Catherine of Siena Church, built in the mid-1860s, only holds about 65 people.

Bulfer expects a big turnout this year, since the event falls on a Friday and forecasters are calling for favorable weather.

Jackie McCormick, a church coordinator of volunteers and ministry who's been helping organize the event for the past five years, described the occasion as "awe-inspiring."

There's more to organizing the event than people may realize. Beyond the routine planning and coordination, McCormick noted there are other details that have to be considered, such as a generator to light up the old church.

But the end product is a memorable night that people come from all over the state to experience.

"It's wonderful," McCormick said.

Friday's procession starts a 7 p.m. and people are encouraged to arrive around 6:30 p.m. at the Hornitos plaza. Those coming from the Merced area can take Highway 140 toward Mariposa, turn left on Hornitos Road and right on Bear Valley Road into town.

Guests should bring their own candles. Though it's free to take part in the event, donations are accepted and go to the Hornitos Patrons Club, which organizes the event. The money is used for maintaining the old church.

For one night out of the year, the once-bustling gold town will return to life.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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