Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and Msgr. Joseph Roldan, Cathedral rector, smile as the procession arrives at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Craig Pittelli photo
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and Msgr. Joseph Roldan, Cathedral rector, smile as the procession arrives at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. Craig Pittelli photo

Trenton can be pretty quiet on Saturdays, when state offices are closed. But on Dec. 7, the streets in a four-mile radius around St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral were bursting with energy, music, dancing, floats and, above all, prayer.

Photo Gallery: 2019 Traveling Guadalupe Torch Procession

Photo Gallery: 2019 Traveling Guadalupe Torch Mass

Photo Gallery: 2019 Las Antorchas Guadalupanas - Gallery 1

For the fourth time in as many years, those walking in the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe torch procession – Las Antorchas Guadalupanas – headed to the Cathedral for Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. The pilgrimage's tempo energized pilgrims and residents of the neighborhoods alike.

For Peg Kowalski, among the 1,000 faithful who processed toward the Cathedral, it was the culmination of a personal month-long journey with Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the sense of joy she felt was overwhelming.

Kowalski, a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, was one of 17 torch captains who went forth Oct. 26 to share the light of the Blessed Mother under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when the tapers were lit and blessed in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

Throughout November, the torches visited 40 parishes, schools, pro-life events and Knights of Columbus Councils before being reunited on this day at the Mother Church of Trenton.

This pilgrimage day was full of beautiful moments said Kowalski, who had traveled with the Miracle Torch to five parishes during November.

“One of the most beautiful things today was reaching the rise at St. Joseph Parish and turning around to see a sea of people all together, all heading to the Cathedral to honor Mary. This is my third year making this pilgrimage. I love the experience of meeting people from other parishes.”

“We take the torch from one church to another and everyone celebrates Mary in a different way. But you realize it’s one mother we celebrate. We are her children, and she is our mom,” Kowalski said.

When the torches and pilgrims arrived at the Cathedral, they were greeted by Bishop O’Connell and Msgr. Joseph Roldan, Cathedral rector, and invited inside. The bilingual Mass was celebrated by Bishop O’Connell and concelebrated by Msgr. Roldan and 12 diocesan priests.

In Praise of Mary

At the start of the Mass, each torch was announced by name and carried into the Cathedral, where it was placed in front of the altar rail. Baskets holding prayer intentions collected from throughout the diocesan community and gathered from Trenton residents along the pilgrimage route that morning were placed in front of the altar.

Tasked with introducing the procession, Maria Guzman-Paczkowski, a member of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, had asked the faithful to consider “how this month of honor” of Our Lady of Guadalupe was much more than “simple storytelling” or individual parishes celebrating Our Lady.

In reality, she said, throughout the four counties, “What was happening supernaturally was that one Diocese was becoming one family of faith in love for our Queen Mother.”

That sense of love, so evident throughout the Cathedral, was captured in the homily given by Bishop O’Connell. He shared how just last year at this time, he had the privilege of leading priests and lay faithful on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

“It was an awesome and deeply moving experience, along with my fellow pilgrims, to kneel and pray in that beautiful church dedicated to the patroness of all the Americas,” the Bishop said. He described how meaningfulness of watching “thousands of people, many who had traveled on foot from their homes throughout Mexico, bring their prayers and needs to our Lord through his Blessed Mother’s intercession.

“And here we are today, pilgrims throughout our Diocese, carrying our torches, symbols of the light that our Lady of Guadalupe brings as she gives birth to her child, symbols also of the light of faith that burns deeply in our hearts and that we bring as we approach her son.”

As faithful anticipate the great feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the Bishop said the time is right to share her story, how she called to Juan Diego, a 57-year-old Mexican convert, to come to her. “We remember her words: ‘Truly I am honored to be your compassionate mother, yours and that of all the people that live together in this land, and also of all the other various lineages of men, those who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me.’

“Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Mother of God and the Mother of all God’s children – your mother and my mother – and the patroness of the Americas,” Bishop O’Connell said.

A Mother’s Call

At the social that followed in the Cathedral dining hall, hundreds of faithful from the diocesan community enjoyed sharing traditional food, observing music and dance and sharing the stories of their devotion to Mary.

Katherine Michele Alvarez, daughter of Jose and Florinda Alvarez, tapped her feet along with the sound of the Mariachi band as her parents talked about their love for Mary.

The couple, members of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton, said they are devoted to the Virgin of Guadalupe. “God has blessed us with our little blessing,” Jose Alvarez said, as he cradled his daughter. “We connected to Our Lady and pray the Rosary daily.”

They enjoy attending the Antorchas Guadalupanas celebration every year and look forward to learning something new about their devotion, Alvarez said. This year it was the Scripture Reading from Revelation, he said, referring to Rv. 11:19a-12:1-6a, 10 ab, which begins “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”

The couple said they were moved by the depiction of Mary as a Queen. “The Bishop’s message that we are all one family was very important. This day is a chance to come together with Our Lady and her Son."

The sense of unity that the tradition offers is very important to Andres and Maria Luna of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills. The couple – captains of the Image Torch this year – have participated for all four years. The Lunas are taking the prayer intentions collected along the pilgrimage route to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

“We love to come together to celebrate Our Lady for America, not only for Mexico,” said Maria, noting how she and Andres are pleased to see that affection for the tradition is growing throughout the diocesan community. “Word is spreading among the Anglos,” he said. “It is growing. Now there are 17 torches,” he said, noting that a torch was added this year for Catholic cemeteries.

“We need this in this country. This is the most diverse country in the world,” he said. “This brings us together. She brings us together, without borders.”