Representatives carry the newly lit torches at the end of the Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. The torches will travel to parishes around the Diocese during the month of November. Vic Mistretta photos
Representatives carry the newly lit torches at the end of the Mass celebrated by Bishop O'Connell in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. The torches will travel to parishes around the Diocese during the month of November. Vic Mistretta photos

By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent

To hear Nelson Abru explain it, there is a very important message accompanying the 15 torches on their journey across the Diocese for Las Antorchas Guadalupanas.

“As Mary carried the Light of Christ, we need to bring the Light of Christ forward. We need to share this Good News with our parishioners, with those in our communities and with the rest of the world,” said Abru, a member of the respect life ministry in Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton.

Photo Gallery:  Las Antorchas Guadalupanas

Video:  Bishop’s homily from Guadalupe torch lighting Mass

Spreading that light of faith was at the forefront Oct. 27 as Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., joined faithful from around the Diocese in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, to celebrate the third annual Las Antorchas Guadalupanas.

Las Antorchas Guadalupanas, or traveling torch lightings, honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and recall her apparition to the peasant Juan Diego, who is now a saint, working a miracle through him that helped unite Latinos and has converted millions to Catholicism. 

In advance of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December, the torches will visit parishes, schools and communities in each of the Diocese’s four counties over the next five weeks.

“Today, we light the torches that will journey to parishes throughout the four counties of our Diocese, ‘lighting our way,’ allowing us to see Jesus Christ the Lord through the loving eyes of his Blessed Mother who appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531, in Tepeyac, leaving her image on his cloak,” Bishop O’Connell said.

Pat Baylog of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, called being part of the celebration for the first time surreal.

“I see it as Our Lady just bringing all of her children in and gathering them all together,” she said. “The flame of her love is being dispersed. Our Lady is the Patroness of the Americas – what a beautiful way to honor her through this celebration!”

Following a Path

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell spoke on darkness and light being the themes of the day’s Mass. He encouraged those in attendance to “call out to the Lord and not dwell in the darkness,” to “express our needs to Jesus” and to rely on faith.

“It is our faith that enables us to come out of darkness and the things that blind us into the light so that we can truly see,” he said.

“As we light and bless these torches and send them out to the parishes, let us pray that faith will light our path to see the Lord at work in our lives, bringing what we truly need to him.”

Prior to the final blessing, Bishop O’Connell lit the torches, each of which were adorned with ribbons bearing the names of the parishes and organizations that will host a torch for a week’s time, until all of the torches are reunited for diocesan pilgrimage Dec. 1 through the city of Trenton.

The pilgrimage will conclude at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, where Bishop O’Connell will welcome the pilgrims and the torches and celebrate Mass.

“I bless the torches and send you forth,” Bishop O’Connell said as the torch captains carried their flames out of the Co-Cathedral to the parish center, where food, fellowship and a variety of Hispanic musicians and dancers welcomed parishioners and visitors.

Joyful Participants

Gina Santiago of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton, said she felt blessed to be a torch captain.

“It was very emotional to see them all lit up. I am overwhelmed by the number of torches this year. It’s the faith of the people that brings the torches to our churches. It’s growing because all are invited to be a part of the celebration,” she said.

While Karla Gonzalez has participated in the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration for the past three years, this is her first year as a torch captain.

“I am nervous because it is a big responsibility,” the St. Joseph, Toms River, parishioner shared. “But I know I am called to do this and to show others about the devotion we have to Our Lady and grow together with them.”

One of the parishes new to hosting a torch this year is St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach.

“We’re very excited,” said Ellen Conaghan, parish respect life coordinator. “When we heard about it, we knew it was something we wanted to bring to the parish.”