Father Guilherme Andrino pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Lakewood, lights the torches before the start of Mass. Jeff Bruno photo
Father Guilherme Andrino pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Lakewood, lights the torches before the start of Mass. Jeff Bruno photo

The sixth annual journey of the Torches of Our Lady of Guadalupe – Las Antorchas Guadalupanas – drew to a joyous close Dec. 4 in Lakewood. There, some 1,200 faithful from around the Trenton Diocese gathered for the procession and Mass which concluded the month-long cycle of prayer and remembrance.

The torches were lit Oct. 30 in Trenton’s St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral and sent forth to parishes throughout Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties during the month of November. There, they shone as beacons of the impassioned prayers of the participants, their light meant to remind everyone that Our Lady of Guadalupe is present in all moments of prayer and that she is advocating our requests to her son, Jesus.

Photo Gallery: Pilgrimage and Closing Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The day began with a flourish as the pilgrimage kicked off promptly at 8:30 a.m. from St. Mary of the Lake Church where pilgrims of all ages, including scores in traditional dress, joined together, filling a three-and-a-half mile route through city streets and rural neighborhoods prayerfully and in song.

Along the way, the 20 torches were accompanied by a myriad of floats, brilliantly costumed dancers and musicians and scores of folks of all ages and walks of life signaling their depth of devotion to the Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady of Guadalupe. The early morning activity caught the curiosity and attention of business owners and residents who stepped out onto the sidewalk or looked on from their house porches to catch a better view of this first-time ever event taking place in their town.

By 11:30 a.m., the prayerful cavalcade arrived in the parking lot of Holy Family Chapel. The worship space, which seats 650, was full to overflowing with additional seating in the gymnasium and the community center on the campus where viewing was by livestream. Scores more watched the livestream from their homes.

Living in the Light

The torches, each accompanied by captains who oversaw their four-week journey to parishes, schools and cemeteries around the Diocese, were warmly welcomed by Marian hymns from the choir composed of members from St. Mary of the Lake Church, St. Anthony Claret Church and the Polish congregation.

Each banner bedecked torch proclaimed a message of witness – respect for life, ongoing prayer from the Knights of Columbus, symbols connected with the Virgin of Guadalupe including her image, flowers and the miracles attributed to her. The torches came to rest around front of the sanctuary, their lights shining throughout the Mass.

Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general, was the principal celebrant. Divine Word Father Guilherme A. Andrino, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, was among the concelebrating priests.  

In his welcoming remarks, Msgr. Gervasio, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, spoke of how “Our Lady has come with us,” in the journey just undertaken. “She has gathered us together,” he said, a reflection of her “task to draw all people to her son".

Prayerful petitions submitted at the parishes, schools and the cemeteries through out the month of November have been “placed at the feet of Our Lady that she may intercede for us,” he said.

Father Carlos Aguirre, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, in his homily, described Our Lady of Guadalupe as the “single purpose” that drew the throng to the pilgrimage. “We gather from different parishes to accompany our Blessed Mother and walk with her today toward a new beginning,” to fulfill the mission of “Catholics living in the light,” he said.

Though many were like Juan Diego, the Indian sought out by the Virgin to call his people to her son, in initially resisting, they had come today, mindful of Jesus’ charge to humanity to “serve the poor, heal the sick and show mercy” to all.

The synod recently announced by Pope Francis, “has called us to walk together, united,” regardless of culture, social class or language, he said. “Each of us has a mission to make Jesus present in our lives. Dear Children,” he said, “we are here like Juan Diego answering the call to unite ….”

Building Community 

As the Mass came to a close, the torch captains drew light from each taper, setting aglow smaller candles which would remain behind in the sanctuary of Holy Family Chapel to keep the light going as long as possible, Father Andrino said, adding that the vision of the “beautiful scene of all the people coming out to honor Our Lady and everyone who participated” in creating this day would last a lifetime. Father Andrino added that he hoped that the day would provide learning experiences for all who participated.

“We Catholics are strong in our devotion to Mary, and we should always give people moments to live in a deeper sense of this devotion,” he said, noting that he has encouraged his parishioners to pray the Rosary regularly.

“I hope that with this event, those who watched in person or online, will feel closer to the Church and spread the news that our Church is alive, that the pandemic did not destroy it and even call others to return if they have not yet done so.”

Among the scores of people Father Andrino commended for their work in coordinating the day’s events were his parish staff, staff from the diocesan Chancery as well as the Lakewood Police Department who helped with planning, securing the permit process and walking the pilgrimage route.

His words of thanks to the family of the late Police Captain Joseph Goetz who were in attendance, were especially moving.

Capt. Goetz died suddenly Oct. 31. He had helped all along the way with organizing the township’s participation, Father Andrino said. One of the small candles lit at the end of the Mass would be going home with his family members who were present to keep the light burning a bit longer.

Cori Scotti, music director of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and a member of the planning committee, said the suggestion to move the celebration to Lakewood followed almost immediately on the heels of the formal inauguration of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish – created by the merger of St. Mary of the Lake and St. Anthony Claret parishes – and the installation of Father Andrino as pastor on Oct. 24 by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Scotti said a week after this first major event hosted by the recently merged faith community, a call came from the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life which had sponsored the Guadalupe torch celebration since its inception six years ago asking if the Lakewood parish be willing to host it. “The response was sure – and that’s how it started,” she said.

“Everyone gave it their best try,” Scotti said, reviewing the numerous logistics that included combining seven individual choirs that sing variously in Spanish, Polish and English into one; planning the route from St. Mary of the Lake to Holy Family; holding extra rehearsals for music and the liturgy; acquiring donations from companies in town like Elisa’s Bakery which donated Mexican sweet bread, Bimbo’ cakes as well as borrowing 250 chairs from Brick’s St. Dominic Parish to help accommodate the expected crowds. Calvary Lighthouse next door to Holy Family loaned their parking lot for the day. 

“It was all about focusing on building community,” Scotti said. "The Bishop wished us well when we merged three communities and we had participation from all three parish communities," she said, then added that a "key moment" occurred when the drone streaming the procession showed "people coming out of their houses to enjoy the scene. It was a new way of getting to know our community.”

Walking The Walk

A number of pilgrims, including three women from the parishes of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Whiting, and Mary, Mother of the Church, Bordentown, as well as members of several Knights of Columbus councils who were on board a float, reflected on how meaningful it was to participate in the pilgrimage and Mass for the first time.

While a Knight from Atlantic Highlands was heartened to join in an event honoring the Blessed Mother who reminds him of the many qualities that his earthly mother had held, another Knight from Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, observed on how successful the 2021 pilgrimage was considering it was being held in Lakewood for the first time and the tremendous turnout of people.

“Things are going very well,” he said.

Father José Guadalupe, parochial vicar in St. Junipero Serra Parish, Seaside Park, noted that 2021 marked the second time he participated in the pilgrimage.

"Last time, I walked for myself personally. This year we have a parish group that’s walking," he said, then added, "Our Lady of Guadalupe is important to the Mexican community because she chose our people to appear to. So, we carry her in our blood. This celebration is a great way to accompany our diverse community. This is also an opportunity to bring our prayers to her."

Father Guadalupe added that his first prayer is "that we be people who defend life.

"I also pray for the immigrant community that is going through some very difficult times right now. I pray that they’ll be able to find peace in their lives and that they can live the American dream, something that is very real for many people," he said.

Brisa Garcia of St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt, could not contain her enthusiasm.

"We’re celebrating our Virgencita – little Virgen' today," Garcia said.

"She loves us and so we’re joyful to be able to celebrate her," she said, adding she is filled with gratitude for the many blessings she has received. "After this difficult year, we’re celebrating that we’re able to arrive at her feast day. That’s coming soon, and we love her, and we honor her. ... I thank her for representing me to her son Jesus."

Rosalva Pérez, St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, was thrilled at the number of new pilgrims. "This is so good," she said, then added how proud she was that Mary chose "my country" – Mexico  to appear.

"You can always see the love a mother has for her children," Pérez said. "She is an example of what a good mother is for me. She’s a model to follow, how she gave her life for her son, because of her 'Yes.'"