Alejandro Trejo, or Father Alex, arranges couples before a group portrait is taken by a wedding photographer in front of the church on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Alejandro Trejo, or Father Alex, arranges couples before a group portrait is taken by a wedding photographer in front of the church on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

23 couples, one mass celebration in Washington farm town

Summer kicks off a flurry of weddings. In Central Washington, one small town went big with 23 couples tying the knot, all on the same day.

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ride-to-be Ana Dely Morales welcomes us into her apartment in Mattawa, Washington as she changes her three-year-old daughter into a pink dress with tiny, white dress shoes.

“Pasenle," Come in, she says in Spanish. “Nos estamos cambiando," we’re just getting dressed.

They’re supposed to be at the church in three hours.

But first mom has to shower — and then on to hair, makeup and clothes.

With four kids, that’s proving to be a challenge. The youngest two girls, Roxanna, 4, and Valerie, 1, whimper as she tugs a brush through their hair.

Ramon Sanchez Cordova, her future husband, entertains the two boys, Jonathan, 5, and Joshua, 15, the oldest of all the kids.

Ana Dely Morales puts mascara on before marrying her partner of 16 years, Ramon Sanchez Cordova, in a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Ana Dely Morales puts mascara on before marrying her partner of 16 years, Ramon Sanchez Cordova, in a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

After a 10 minute shower, Morales grabs her wedding dress from the closet. She’s actually got two options, but she goes for the simpler, summer dress with off the shoulder sleeves.

A local woman was supposed to do her hair and makeup, but she was all booked up today. When there’s 23 couples getting married on the same day, it means you have to fight to get anyone at all.


Morales calls her neighbor for help. The call goes to voicemail, so she grabs a makeup brush and gets to work.

Joshua helps her by watching the little ones.

“I’ve been playing around with my dad all week, like ha-ha you’re getting married!” he jokes and his dad laughs.

Morales and Sanchez have been together for 16 years. They have had a civil ceremony, but Sanchez really wanted to get married through the church. Faith is important to him, and he wanted to set a good example for the kids.

Himmbler Bernal holds a white rose while standing next to his wife, Lucelba, during a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Himmbler Bernal holds a white rose while standing next to his wife, Lucelba, during a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

At the church, Our Lady of the Desert, chaos begins. Cars look for good parking spots. A crew of volunteers rushes by, holding a giant container of food for the reception.

Kids in their Sunday best run around, and a couple start passing a soccer ball in the courtyard.

The church pews won’t fit everyone. So the ceremony is outside, under white canopies with rows and rows of white chairs.

Alma Mejia walks with her soon-to-be husband, Fortino Mejia, along with 22 other couples, to a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Alma Mejia walks with her soon-to-be husband, Fortino Mejia, along with 22 other couples, to a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Alejandro Trejo, or Father Alex as he’s known around here, says this is a special moment.

“This is the first time we are going to do it all at once in the parish,” he says. “This is a big celebration."

When the church realized there was a number of couples that hadn't formalized their union, they put a call out. Wanted: couples for a mass wedding.

It was a good way for the community to pool their money for a once in a lifetime event.

Couples wait their turn to take a photograph with the wedding cake after a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Couples wait their turn to take a photograph with the wedding cake after a mass wedding ceremony on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


All 23 couples are Latino, mostly Spanish speaking. Many like Morales and Sanchez have been together for a decade or more. Their kids will be at the wedding, although many will be missing their parents, who are back in Mexico or Central America.

Some are taking videos of the ceremony and mailing them back home.

Each couple chipped in $100 or so but the venue, the band, the chairs, even the cake, are all donated by the community. This is a communal, campesino wedding.

A lasso de boda is placed around newlyweds Isidro Gómez and his wife Genoveva on Sunday, June 2, 2019, during a mass wedding ceremony where 23 couples were married at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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A lasso de boda is placed around newlyweds Isidro Gómez and his wife Genoveva on Sunday, June 2, 2019, during a mass wedding ceremony where 23 couples were married at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


Guests keep streaming in and eventually the seats are all filled up. Some people brought their own chairs. Others sit in pickup trucks or on the grass surrounding the aisle.

It’s 92 degrees.

Abuelos fan over sleeping babies, men dab at their trickling foreheads with napkins.

At last, the bridal chorus begins.

Light shines on Janeli Alcala's face during a mass wedding ceremony for 23 couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Light shines on Janeli Alcala's face during a mass wedding ceremony for 23 couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


23

brides dressed in white walk down the aisle, each one with a different white dress, a different veil or hair piece.

The grooms stand next to them in their best suits and button ups, some sport shiny black shoes, others have their treasured cowboy boots.

This Catholic wedding has prayer, songs, and Latino traditions like el lazo y las arras, the wedding lasso and coins ceremony.

Ana Dely Morales and Ramon Sanchez Cordova hold a lasso de boda together during a mass wedding ceremony where they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Ana Dely Morales and Ramon Sanchez Cordova hold a lasso de boda together during a mass wedding ceremony where they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Argimiro Nuñez and Honorina Hernandez pose for a portrait for their wedding photographer before a mass wedding ceremony where they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Argimiro Nuñez and Honorina Hernandez pose for a portrait for their wedding photographer before a mass wedding ceremony where they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


The couples kneel and the godparents place the lasso over the couple. The lasso symbolizes a unity between the new pair, via two rosaries in a figure eight, or infinity sign.

The coins represent the wealth shared between the two: What’s mine is yours.

Esmeralda Rosas, 5, twirls in circles outside of a mass wedding ceremony where 23 couples were married on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Esmeralda Rosas, 5, twirls in circles outside of a mass wedding ceremony where 23 couples were married on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


After the group exchanges rings, Father Alex calls each couple up, one by one. He blesses their union and they sign their formal wedding document.

Morales and Sanchez are fourth to last.

They sign, and then Mr. and Mrs. Sanchez kiss.

The crowd howls, cheering them on. “O-tro, o-tro:" another, another they chant.

Ana Dely Morales and Ramon Sanchez Cordova share a kiss during a mass wedding ceremony where they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Ana Dely Morales and Ramon Sanchez Cordova share a kiss during a mass wedding ceremony where they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


Right on cue, the band starts playing a festive cumbia number. Now the real party begins.

Heaps of carnitas and tortillas come out on plastic plates, volunteers taking them to each table where family and friends celebrate different couples.

Members of the Grupo Herradura De Plata from left, Fermin Herrera, Everardo Gallardo and Javier Cruz warm up in a parking area before performing during a mass wedding ceremony where 23 couples were married on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Members of the Grupo Herradura De Plata from left, Fermin Herrera, Everardo Gallardo and Javier Cruz warm up in a parking area before performing during a mass wedding ceremony where 23 couples were married on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


As the sun sets, the desert heat finally breaks and a cool breeze takes over.

For the new bride and groom it’s been quite the day.

But come Monday, Ramon Sanchez will head back to the cherry fields; Ana Dely Sanchez back to child care.

For an hour or two more, they can celebrate though. It’s their wedding day, after all.

Rosio Lopez leaves the mass wedding ceremony with her newlywed husband Alejandro Cruz at the end of the night after they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
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Rosio Lopez leaves the mass wedding ceremony with her newlywed husband Alejandro Cruz at the end of the night after they were married along with 22 other couples on Sunday, June 2, 2019, at Our Lady of the Desert Church in Mattawa.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer