Amid dancing to mariachi music and hymns alongside colorful floats adorned with flowers and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Holy Eucharist shone the unmistakable love and devotion of the families, teens and parish groups who gathered for the eighth annual diocesan pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
PHOTO GALLERY: Guadalupe Torch Procession
PHOTO GALLERY: Guadalupe Torches' Closing Mass
The lively and festive scene that unfolded on the streets of downtown Lakewood Dec. 2 marked the culmination of the series of traveling torch lightings, or Las Antorchas Guadalupanas, that began nearly six weeks ago across the Diocese. Since the beginning of November, torches honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe have been traveling to parishes in each county of the Diocese to encourage community and cultural prayer experiences.
“This is a major event for the Diocese,” Mario Monfil said during the walking pilgrimage held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. The pilgrimage began early in the morning on the grounds of the parish’s St. Mary of the Lake Church and traveled 3.5 miles to Holy Family Chapel, where Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general, celebrated Mass.
“Every year there are more people who attend,” said Monfil, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, a third-time pilgrimage participant. He noted his main reasons for participating were his Mexican heritage and his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, something he learned from his parents
“They told me at an early age that I must believe in her, and I do believe in her,” he said. “I feel proud to be Mexican, and I love her.”
Wilson Guzhnay of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, who has attended the pilgrimage numerous times during the earlier years in Trenton and the past few years in Lakewood, finds it to be “something incredibly positive … it motivates a lot of people. ... The streets are full of people working together.” He noted his contributions toward the pilgrimage included helping to decorate a float and encouraging people to attend.
“I am devoted to her,” Guzhnay said of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “I am grateful to her for all that she has done.”
Once at Lakewood’s Holy Family Chapel, the pews quickly filled with pilgrims of all ages. Before Mass began, more than 20 torches were carried down the aisle and set in stands in front of the sanctuary. The names of the torch bearers and the parish, school or organization they represented were called by Mateo Greeley, a member of St. Ann Parish and a faculty member at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville.
Msgr. Gervasio, in his welcome, said he was delighted “to return once again for this beautiful celebration of culture, of love and devotion to the Lord and his Blessed Mother.
“I bring with me the greetings and best wishes of our Bishop [David M. O’Connell, C.M.], who I have the honor of representing,” Msgr. Gervasio said.
In his homily, Father Javier Diaz, pastor of Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, reflected on the theme of unity and the symbols of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Ella nos mira,” he said. Then in English, he added that the image shows the Blessed Mother “looking at us.
Referring to the Blessed Mother’s eyes and her hands that are folded in prayer, Father Diaz added: “She’s giving us a gift. That gift we know is her son, Jesus.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe connects us to the true God, for whom we shall live,” he said.
Spreading God’s Love
Josue Arriola, director of the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, elaborated on Father Diaz’s homily when speaking about the significance of the traveling Guadalupe Torches as being a longstanding tradition of evangelization in the Diocese.
“The goal is to bring the Blessed Mother’s message to the people, (a message) about us giving Jesus our hearts,” he said.
“Not many people know about the message,” he said. “They know that she requested a temple, and the reason was because she wanted to give us her son. She not only requested a physical temple, she’s requesting a temple in our hearts.
“We are created for one reason — to be happy,” Arriola said, “and happiness is not something, it is someone. It is Jesus Christ. In other words, everybody wants Jesus in their hearts, and she wants to give that to us. This is her message.”
An Event For All
Hailing from Mexico, Antonia Moran of Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, concurred that the pilgrimage serves as an evangelization tool and can be “something that we can bring to the world and to the people on how we feel about God and the Virgin Mary.”
She added that while she was pleased to see the large number of children participating, she hopes that number will increase.
“It is beautiful to see the children on the floats … it sends a strong message … this is not just for Mexican people, it is for everyone,” she said.
Maribel Luna Jimenez of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish expressed her emotions as she spoke about attending the pilgrimage with her mother and daughter.
“I am from Mexico and the Virgin appeared in our country. It is an honor for me to follow her in every place of the world,” Jimenez said. She added that experiencing the tradition and devotion in the Diocese of Trenton and “in a country that is not ours, helps us not to feel alone.”
Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general, prays over the gifts during the Mass he celebrated to mark the conclusion of Guadalupe Torches pilgrimage. The Mass was held in Holy Family Chapel. Mike Ehrmann photo