EMBOSCADA, Paraguay (AP) – Catholics in this Paraguayan town paid homage to St. Francis Solano on Friday in a peculiar religious festival that involves dressing up in bird-feather suits.
The celebration was held at the chapel that bears the name of the saint, who was born in Spain in 1549 and died in Peru 1610. Solano was canonized in 1726.
Some 500 people attended the event — a mix of Roman Catholic and Guarani indigenous beliefs that has been held since the 19th century.
The festival began with a Mass, then a procession with an image of the saint and ended with people dancing in suits made with black, white, brown and grey feathers.
Legend has it that Guaicuru Indians used to attack smaller tribes and Spanish colonizers to steal their food and weapons. Some people decided to dress up in bird feathers to scare the Guaicuru away. The faithful say that as St. Francis Solano lay on his deathbed, birds sang to him.
Local priests say there are no records of the saint ever appearing in Paraguay but residents believe in his miraculous powers nonetheless.
Pedro Balbuena is seen as the chief of the feathered-ones. He says he has been organizing the dancing performance for 40 years. His group, which includes children, adults and the elderly, prefer to use rooster feathers for the suits, because they're more colorful.