Traditional dancers lead the way into St. Mary Church, Bordentown, as the Apparition Torch is welcomed to Mary, Mother of the Church Parish Nov. 10. Katie Cerni photo

Traditional dancers lead the way into St. Mary Church, Bordentown, as the Apparition Torch is welcomed to Mary, Mother of the Church Parish Nov. 10. Katie Cerni photo

By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor

As the 15 torches honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe make their way across the Diocese of Trenton, their journey is marked by celebration, excitement and devotion. And their impact has been one of unity for Catholics of all backgrounds and their common love for the Blessed Mother.

Whether fusing the two-church families of a recently merged parish, or joining Spanish-speaking and English-speaking faithful, the torches have provided opportunities for drawing together as community. Celebrating its third year, receiving one of Las Antorchas Guadalupanas has become a highly anticipated event for many parishes and schools, as well as the Knights of Columbus and Pro-Life chapters in each of the Diocese’s four counties.

“All any of us can do is try,” said Father Martin O’Reilly, administrator of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, of creating opportunities for unification. His merged parish community draws faithful from the two worship sites of Holy Assumption Church, Roebling, and St. Mary Church, Bordentown.

“It was really the parish prayer group that brought [the torch request] to my attention,” he explained. “I thought it was a good idea; our parish had just amalgamated, and they felt it would be a good experience to have this focus.”

Mary, Mother of the Church Parish welcomed the Apparition Torch Nov. 10, and had activities incorporating the entire parish family planned throughout the week, including a pasta dinner and Our Lady of Guadalupe DVD viewing hosted by the Knights of Columbus. The religious education program and Altar Rosary Society also contributed to the torch events.

“We had a good turnout,” Father O’Reilly said, noting that prayer services and activities surrounding the torch were planned at both worship sites. “We have equal representation from both; they recognize and realize that they’re part of the planning of everything – they have a say in their contribution.”

St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, will receive the Rose Torch Nov. 18. Divine Word Father Krzysztof Pipa, administrator, said the parish has prayers planned at 7 p.m. every evening that week except for Nov. 22, Thanksgiving Day. The parish has a large Hispanic community, which Deacon Mike O’Brien said is one of the important reasons for having the torch visit.

“We’ve celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe for quite a few years now, but mainly just by our Spanish-speaking community,” Deacon O’Brien explained. “We deacons and the English-speaking community were involved in the finale – the big, beautiful celebration, [in which] you really got a feel for the culture.

“This year, I think it’s become even more inclusive,” he continued, noting that both the Spanish- and English-speaking communities are assisting with evening activities. “The whole celebration is becoming more of an understanding of what the torch represents.”

That representation, Deacon O’Brien said, is a devotion to the Blessed Mother – something all Catholics can take part in. When planning for the English portion of the services, he found and integrated prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe from various popes.

“The Rosary is also a big part of that … the general devotion to the Blessed Mother brings everyone together … These prayers have a common theme for everyone,” he said.

“Until you start to understand it, you don’t get involved,” Deacon O’Brien observed. “When people understand the origin [of the torches] more, then more people are interested. The Spanish-speaking community becomes closer to the English-speaking community, and it’s a good thing for the parish – we want to be one, not separate.”

The Pro-Life Torch for Ocean County arrived Oct. 28 in St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach. Since then, the torch has accompanied parishioners on the 40 Days for Life peaceful prayers in front of Planned Parenthood.

 “The torch is a visual, a reminder, a call to prayer,” said Ellen Conaghan, St. Peter’s Respect Life coordinator. “Our Lady converted millions. She can change our minds, especially on abortion. She is the symbol of life.”

Conaghan said St. Peter parishioners were curious and interested about the torch’s visit, and were able to learn about its significance through a full-page description of the torch in the parish bulletin.

“The torch brings new life to the Pro-Life movement,” she said. The parish has planned a holy hour, recitation of the Rachel Rosary and the torch’s presence at prayer vigils for life.

“We are hoping the torch serves as a bridge to our Spanish community,” Conaghan continued. “We would love to see more families come to St. Peter’s and know that they are welcome here always.”

Divine Word Father Messan K. Tettekpoe, who is assigned to Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, is looking forward to the presence of the Rose Torch, which will arrive in the worship site of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Nov. 25.

“Taking the light as a symbol of unity is very important,” said Father Tettekpoe. “We are looking for Christ, the light, and that will bring the community to come as a whole to various activities.”

The parish, he said, incorporates various cultures, among them Hispanic, Anglo, African American and Haitian backgrounds.

“The Rosary is one of the main prayers [around which people can unite],” Father Tettekpoe noted. “The participation of the parishioners will help us determine future multicultural activities.”

Deacon O’Brien echoed Conaghan’s hopes for parish unity. “We’re a very friendly parish, very diverse, and we like to be involved in each other’s activities and celebrations – that’s the ultimate goal.”

Added Father O’Reilly, “People are very receptive and happy to be involved, to receive that sense of equality. Whenever people offer their service, and you say ‘yes,’ you empower them and give them a sense of responsibility.”