Pope Francis urged Latin American and Caribbean Catholics to celebrate and defend their diversity, saying Tuesday the face of the Catholic Church is indigenous, mestizo and black.

Francis celebrated a special Mass to celebrate the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the dark-skinned virgin who appeared to an Indian peasant in the 1500s and is particularly important to Latin American Catholics, the Argentine pope included.

Locally, members from different Catholic parishes gathered to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe at observances around the Valley.

Diocese of Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores said among Catholics — especially here in the Rio Grande Valley — the faith in the Lady of Guadalupe is very strong.

“It’s a celebration of the appearance of Our Lady in 1531 to San Juan Diego, which she announced that she was the Mother of God who was visiting the New World and that she wanted her children to be compassionate and reconciled,” Flores said.

At a celebration in Brownsville, people dressed up in colorful costumes and danced in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe statues while others rode horses carrying portraits of her image.

“(The dancing) goes back to the Indians, the indigenas. That’s what they did for her many many many years ago in Mexico City, where the virgen appeared to Juan Diego,” said Mike Maza, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville. “The virgen appeared up on a hill, where the basilica is and so when the virgen appeared to him, Juan Diego, all of those people that lived with the Indians came up to the hill. And now what they do is they celebrate that every year.”

Many people also refer to Dec. 12 as Our Lady of Guadalupe’s birthday.

“It’s not the day she was born, but it’s the day when you celebrate the fact that she came and visited Juan Diego, who is a very humble man, and she gave him a mission to go out and announce the Gospel,” Flores said. “So that’s kind of the heart of her ‘birth amongst us,’ so to speak.”

In his homily, Francis said indigenous peoples, women, peasants, migrants and the unemployed often aren’t treated with the dignity they deserve. He urged the region’s faithful to not only cultivate their diverse cultures but “valiantly defend them” against homogenization.

“Our fertility compels us to defend our people against an ideological colonization that cancels out the richest of them, be they indigenous, Afro-American, mestizo, peasant or suburban,” he said, speaking in his native Spanish.

“We want to learn to be a church with a mestizo, indigenous, Afro-American face,” he said. “A face that is poor, unemployed, of children, old and young so that no one feels sterile or shameful or worthless.”

The first pope from the Americas has continued a tradition started by Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate a special Mass for the Guadalupe feast day, recognizing that Latin America has accounted for about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics and that Mexico (and Brazil) remain the countries with the most Catholics.

The most memorable Guadalupe Mass was the Francis’ 2014 edition, which featured the “Misa Criolla” folk Mass with hymns composed by Argentina’s Ariel Ramirez. Tuesday’s Mass was a more traditional affair, although Francis — who usually doesn’t sing — mouthed the words to the final “La Guadalupana” hymn.

Reporting by The Brownsville Herald and The Associated Press.