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Bethel and local church join for 2nd annual Dia de los Muertos celebration

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For the second year in a row, Bethel College social work students are joining with the priest and parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Newton to organize a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, or All Souls’ Day) parade and worship service.

The event takes place Saturday, Nov. 2, beginning at 5 p.m. with parade preparation, crafts and face-painting in Themian Park, at the corner of 8th and Poplar Streets in Newton.

The parade starts at the park at 6:30 p.m. and will proceed for several blocks down Main Street before turning west on 5th Street and following a route to Our Lady of Guadalupe church (415 South Ash Street in Newton).

In addition to a worship service at 7:15 p.m., there will be crafts and traditional Día de los Muertos foods (calaveras – sugar candy shaped like skulls – and pan de muertos, a sweet bread) for sale, as well as nachos, burritos, tostadas, tamales, posole and menudo available for purchase. Participants are invited to bring photos and items honoring their dead loved ones to place on a special altar.

Catholics, and some other Christian groups, celebrate Nov. 1 as All Saints’ Day and Nov. 2 as All Souls’ Day. The latter, in particular, is a time to pray for and remember family members and friends who have died.

For Mexicans, Nov. 2 is an important holiday (in fact, a national holiday) on which families spend all day at the cemetery, cleaning and decorating the graves of their loved ones and enjoying a meal of the deceased’s favorite foods.

“This is a day on which we celebrate the souls of the faithful departed,” said Father Juan Garza of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “We are aware that we are here just for a while and then we are in heaven. While we are in this world, our mission is to work, pray and serve with one another.”

As far as Father Garza knows, there is no other public celebration of el Día de los Muertos in the south central Kansas area and perhaps in the whole state.

“It’s good to work with the Bethel students,” he said. “They have been in charge of preparations such as the fliers and helping with the service [on Nov. 2]. They have helped a lot.”

Each fall, students in Hamilton Williams’ Intervention in Human Systems class at Bethel choose one or several major projects that directly serve the local community in some way. Last year, the class helped Father Garza and the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe organize Newton’s first-ever Día de los Muertos parade.

“This is an important project for social work students, because it gives us a chance to see what community organizing looks like,” said class member Nicole Smith. “It gives us a chance to work with people who come from different cultures and try to integrate some aspects of a minority culture, with a community event that will hopefully bring people from all different types of backgrounds.”

The Bethel students and church and school groups will be building floats and giant puppets and preparing traditional dances for the Newton Día de los Muertos parade. Anyone else who would like to participate in the parade should contact Williams, Bethel professor of social work, at 316-284-5244 or Our Lady of Guadalupe church at 316-283-3499.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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