PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Henry Giron walked 12.6 miles from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, to Jamaica, Queens, on Monday morning. But he wasn’t empty-handed, and he wasn’t walking alone.
Giron was one of the dozens of torch runners who participated in Masses celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, had their torches lit by Bishop Robert Brennan, and then led processions of parishioners on foot back to their neighborhood churches.
For some, the journey would take hours.
“It’s not about the miles. It’s about the journey,” said Giron, a parishioner of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Jamaica. While he has attended the Mass in previous years, this was his first time as a torch runner.
“It’s an honor,” he added.
One of the most colorful celebrations in the Catholic Church, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, commemorates the day the Blessed Mother appeared to a peasant, Juan Diego, in Mexico in the year 1531.
This year’s feast was the largest ever held in the Diocese of Brooklyn, according to Father Baltazar Sanchez Alonzo, coordinator of the Mexican Apostolate for the diocese. In anticipation of large crowds, the celebration was split up into two Masses to accommodate the estimated 3,000 faithful who came to the co-cathedral. There was a morning Mass for the Queens churches and an afternoon Mass for the Brooklyn churches.
Forty-four parishes from across the diocese participated in the celebration, sending torch runners and delegations — packing the co-cathedral twice.
“It’s filled with people but filled with hearts full of love — love for Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, love for Jesus, who accompanies us wherever we go,” Bishop Brennan said.
Mary is the patron saint of Mexico, and many Mexicans who came to live in the U.S. brought their deep devotion to the Blessed Mother with them. An estimated 175,000 Mexican-Americans live in the diocese.
“It was the apparition of Mary to Juan Diego that brought the faith to Mexico, and now many of the people from Mexico and other Latin American countries are coming here, bringing about a renewal of faith right here in Brooklyn,” Bishop Brennan explained.
While the apparition took place 491 years ago, it is still relevant today, Father Alonzo said.
“She spoke to Juan Diego, and she continues to speak to us,” he added.
Beatriz Garcia, a Mexican-American and a parishioner of the Basilica of Regina Pacis in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, grew emotional when asked about her devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“She means so much to me,” she said. “Every time I pray for her intercession, I feel closer to our Lord because they know she is that connection for our Lord Jesus Christ.”
A highlight of the morning Mass came when dancers dressed in traditional Aztec clothing, complete with feathered headdresses, danced up the long aisle of the co-cathedral to a steady drumbeat. There was also a mariachi band providing music.
At the end of both Masses, the torch runners climbed the steps of the co-cathedral to have Bishop Brennan light their torches.
The torch is significant, Father Alonzo explained, because “it symbolizes the presence of Jesus in our parishes and in our family.”
The fact that Our Lady of Guadalupe chose to appear before Juan Diego, a mere peasant, is significant, according to Bishop Brennan.
“It’s a lesson for all of us really, to be simple, to be open to allowing God’s grace to be the driving force in our lives,” he said.
Garcia also thinks a lot about Juan Diego’s low station in life and the lessons it offers.
“Our Lord decides when and who he will choose, and it can be in the most simple person,” she said. “Egos are irrelevant. It’s about being a kind, humble person and being open to saying yes to believing.”