Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, and the 17 torch bearers kept a social distance of six feet apart as they posed for an outdoor group photo following the Oct. 31 remembrance service.
Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, and the 17 torch bearers kept a social distance of six feet apart as they posed for an outdoor group photo following the Oct. 31 remembrance service.
Estela Valladares carried with her a special prayer intention during the fifth annual Las Antorchas Guadalupanas remembrance service Oct. 31 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral.

Valladares, of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, was thankful her 21-year-old daughter, Maria, had lived through a mild case of the coronavirus this year.

PHOTO GALLERY: Fifth annual Las Antorchas Guadalupanas remembrance service

“I thanked God my daughter survived,” she said, explaining that she felt heartsick for those who had lost loved ones to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I have friends who lost sons and an uncle a few months ago. It is really sad.”

The fifth annual celebration of Las Antorchas Guadalupanas – Torches of Our Lady of Guadalupe – was held in Freehold's Co-Cathedral. The ceremonial lighting, which this year carries the added title “A Season of Remembrance,” kicked off the annual pilgrimage, which was started in the Diocese in 2016 and has become a tradition leading up to the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.

Valladares was among the torch captains from around the Diocese who gathered for the remembrance service and torch lightings. Though attendance was limited to five people per parish due to pandemic restrictions, hundreds tuned in via livestream video as Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, Co-Cathedral rector, officiated over the service. He was joined by Divine Word Father Krzysztof Pipa, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills.

In his homily, Msgr. Sirianni preached from the Gospel of John, picturing Mary as the mother of humanity, the source of comfort and refuge in times of trouble.

“Standing at the foot of the Cross, at the most difficult moment in her life, Jesus gives his mother a job, he made her our mother, and she accepts,” Msgr. Sirianni said. “She is the one who heals, who comforts. She is the mother full of compassion. The one who reaches out in the darkest hour and says, ‘Come, my son is with you; my son will save you.”

The 17 Our Lady of Guadalupe torches will travel to parishes, schools, Catholic service organizations and more during November and early December as part of the annual Las Antorchas Guadalupanas. The traveling torch lightings has taken on a special meaning this year: The pilgrimage is dedicated to the memory of those who have died from any illness, including the coronavirus, and their grieving loved ones.

And as part of the remembrance service and torch lightings, the names of those deceased were read aloud from the ambo.

Patricia Baylog and Paul Keller, both of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown were among those who read the names.

“It was a beautiful experience – the reverence of calling out of names, of recognizing the names of the deceased, saying we remember you – it was a high point of the ceremony,” Keller said after the service. “Rituals are so important, especially in this time when you can’t grieve as normal, when you can’t see friends and family members. This goes a long way toward healing. Hopefully, we gave family members a little comfort.”

Baylog was encouraged that the service had been livestreamed by the diocesan Department of Multimedia Production so that families could participate and hear those names. “Every time a torch was lit and the names were read, from my perspective, you saw the flame … and you say that we are all together in the Communion of Saints. That’s what hit me. The fire of love and the unity that we are all together.”

Mary Morey of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, the torch captain for Mercer County, agreed. “So many people weren’t able to have proper funerals or family present. It made me think of 9/11 because so many people were remembered.”

The torches have been described by Josue Arriola, director of the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, which sponsors the pilgrimage, as a vivid reminder to implore Our Lady to intercede for the departed members of the diocesan family and keep all who grieve close to her heart.

Arriola commented on the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the universal Church in offering spiritual comfort with rituals such as the Service of Remembrance and this year’s Tribute Wall Memorial at “People need to know that it’s OK to mourn, that there is healing and that the Blessed Mother is there.”

In anticipation of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Antorchas Guadalupanas closing Mass will be Dec. 5 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Before the Mass, which will be livestreamed, there will be a procession through the streets of Trenton with the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of the Blessed Mother by a small number of designated followers. Once the procession reaches the Cathedral, all who have gathered can process around Cathedral Square. Social distancing and face masks will be required.