GUSTINE - Thousands of visitors will converge on Gustine this weekend to honor faith and tradition at the 2019 Our Lady of Miracles Celebration.

The Celebration formally started Aug. 30 when a series of novenas began, and comes to a culmination this weekend with processions, dances, bullfights and much more.

The Our Lady of Miracles Celebration traces its roots back to the Azores Islands. Portuguese immigrants brought the tradition of celebrating festas with them to the United States, and in the decades since the OLM Celebration has become one of the largest and most well-known events of its kind.

The Celebration pays tribute to both the shared faith and the heritage shared by those immigrants. Participation in the Celebration is a tradition which spans generations of families.

“People come to meet here once a year. It is almost like a reunion,” said Domingos Ponceano, president of this year’s Celebration.

The Celebration holds many moving moments that are particularly special to the faithful who attend each year, he noted.

For many, the candlelight processions carrying the statue of Our Lady of Miracles are most meaningful. Others take part in an all-night vigil of devotion after the procession has moved the statue from the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles to a cappella in Henry Miller Park on Saturday evening.

While faith is the cornerstone of the Celebration, Ponceano said, the annual event also honors the Portuguese heritage shared by the immigrants.

“It is a tie to their family heritage,” he reflected. “We are lucky that we have a solid base that is still holding on to that, but it is not easy any more.”

The following events are among the highlights of the upcoming weekend.

· A bodo de leite, or parade of animals, will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday. The procession will depart the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles and make its way through downtown Gustine before concluding at Henry Miller Park. “Influential Women in the Bible” is the theme of this year’s bodo de leite.

• The 6:30 p.m. Saturday mass at the Shrine of OLM will be followed by the candlelight procession taking the statue of Our Lady to Henry Miller Park.

• The traditional procession of visiting queens to mass will form at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Gustine Pentecost Society Hall. The 10:30 a.m. mass will be celebrated by the Rev. Leonard Trindade, the Rev. Paulo Borges and His Excellency Joseph Brennan, bishop of the Fresno Diocese. Upon the procession’s return to the GPS Hall, sopas will be served.

• A procession returning the statue of Our Lady to the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles will depart Henry Miller Park at midnight Sunday.

• Bullfights will be he Monday evening at Bella Vista Park. The bullfights begin at 8 p.m.

“We invite everybody to come to our Celebration,” Ponceano concluded. “We would love to see everybody there, and we thank everybody who gave donations or helped in any way.”