"It keeps them busy, it keeps their minds off of things," said their mother. "I tell them that Dad is still watching them."
"This play reminds me that the struggle isn't over yet," he said. "We still have to struggle to right the wrongs."
The play is based on a 16th century text, "The Nican Mopohua," which relates the story of the divine apparitions and is regarded as a kind of founding Christian gospel of the Americas. It was adapted by Evelina Fernández, Valenzuela's wife, with a translation from Nahuatl to Spanish by Miguel Léon-Portilla that captures the rustic quality of the poetic imagery of the Nahuatl language.
"Those are words right out of the codice," Fernández said. "Those are words written by our ancestors 1,000 years ago, and they're beautiful. How could I ever improve on that?"
The score, a blend of traditional folkloric and religious music, was arranged and partially written by Alfredo Lopez Mondragón, who also directs the musicians.
At the end of Thursday's performance, the entire cast joined together at the altar to extend blessings. "Protect those who are crossing the border, looking for a better life." "Protect the poor who are homeless." "Protect our new president."
Several things about the show have evolved over the years. The first time it was performed at the cathedral, Valenzuela said, he had to rush out to Home Depot to buy hand-held lights for the Virgin's appearances.
But at least one thing hasn't changed.
"Every year, we launch in faith that it's going to turn out all right," Lopez said. "The Virgin helps us."
Johnson is a Times staff writer.