Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., lights the seven torches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe during the diocesan pilgrimage Nov. 4 to Washington, D.C., officially kicking off their travels across the Diocese.  Ken Falls photo

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., lights the seven torches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe during the diocesan pilgrimage Nov. 4 to Washington, D.C., officially kicking off their travels across the Diocese.  Ken Falls photo

By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

Nestled into the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., is a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the curved walls creating a cloak of comfort for all who enter to pray.

In the center, an image of the Marian apparition that appeared to the young Mexican peasant Juan Diego in 1531 shines like a beacon, and on either side, the walls are adorned with paintings of pilgrims bearing torches as they approach the Virgin Mary.

Those torches of hope were reflected Nov. 4 as the second annual “Antorchas Guadalupanas” kicked off during the diocesan pilgrimage to the nation’s capital. There, the seven torches that are now touring the Diocese in honor of the Blessed Mother came together – brought by their torch captains and parish Our Lady of Guadalupe committees  – and were officially lighted at the end of Mass by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

The torches will tour the four corners of the Diocese until Dec. 2, when they will come together for a pilgrimage through the streets of Trenton and Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.

“Walk with us. That’s the message right now,” said John Muka of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Yardville, who with his wife Patty, accompanied a torch representing the pro-life movement.

Just like the Basilica shrine, Muka said, “Our Lady’s messages don’t have any sharp edges. … She speaks to us all … and unity, we need that more than anything right now. We need this Patroness of the Americas to bring our conflicted community of nations back together.”

Standing at the entrance to the Marian shrine with her three young children, ages 10, 7 and 5, Elizabeth Perez of St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt, said it brought her joy to see those of all cultures embrace “Antorchas Guadalupanas.”

“It’s nice to see our Hispanic community join together to love Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Perez, explaining that though she hails from Mexico City – the site of the Marian apparition – she knows of parishioners from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Colombia who are coming together for the torches. “A lot of people have opened their hearts to our Lady of Guadalupe. They don’t care where she’s from – they just love Our Lady, and that means a lot to me.”

Charlie Gates, who is on the torch committee in St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, said the torches take on a special meaning this year after so many natural disasters, including the recent earthquake to hit Mexico and back-to-back hurricanes.

“This torch will be a light of faith,” he said. “There is a lot of desperation right now and Our Lady leads us on a path of compassion and love.”

Benita Gonzalez, torch captain in St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, said the traveling torches are a teaching tool in faith. She said they help others “learn to love Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and know that we have a mother, too, who will always guide us. It’s an experience that we’re living and sharing with new generations.

“This example that the Diocese of Trenton is setting could be taken in other places and expanded,” she added.