PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The Bright Christmas tradition is one that Father Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez of Our Lady of Sorrows does not take lightly.
The parish, located in Corona, Queens, has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID pandemic, with over 100 parishioners perishing from the virus. That’s why this year, more than ever, it is important to help put a smile on the faces of children whose families have coped with so much.
“Here at Our Lady of Sorrows, we try to do as much as we can to support important initiatives like Bright Christmas, because they directly benefit the people,” Father Rodriguez explained. “We are supporting this campaign in a heavy way, and it’s part of our commitment to serve our community in the most meaningful manner possible, especially when it comes to children and young people.”
According to Father Rodriguez, his parish has the largest Hispanic population of any in the city. Our Lady of Sorrows is back to hosting about 9,000 parishioners a week.
Among the events planned is a neighborhood tree lighting ceremony in front of the church, with Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman making special appearances for the kids. Hot chocolate will be distributed, and music will be provided.
“It’s especially meaningful for us because this place was the epicenter of the pandemic, and we are so grateful to the Lord that we are now able to resume our regular activities while following precautionary measures,” Father Rodriguez said.
Included among the services Our Lady of Sorrows provides are all-week-long COVID testing services at the church, plus two vans for administering vaccines parked out front.
Last year, the Bright Christmas campaign raised over $100,000 for diocesan and parish-based groups — as well as religious education programs — that have requested resources they can pass along to others, with the goal of putting a new toy into the hands of every child that would not be able to have one otherwise.
“Throughout the month of December, we try to collect gifts from all over New York, and in January we try to connect with our families the birth of Jesus (and) the coming of the Three Kings and the end of the 12 days of Christmas,” explained Our Lady of Sorrows Youth Minister Leibniz Scottborgh.
“As a tradition, many Latin American families celebrate the Three Kings, so we try to help them reflect that,” she said. “God willing, every child from zero to 13 years old receives a gift. We have Christmas sing-alongs with Christmas characters in costumes walking around.”
The Bright Christmas campaign has received and distributed more than $1 million over the past 10 years. This has been used to purchase Christmas presents, food, materials that teach the faith, and more.
Father Rodriguez explained that his church’s primary focus is on the feast of the Three Kings, or Epiphany, when the “three wise men” came bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. “In much the same spirit, our plan is to distribute a couple of thousand toys to our kids, and we are very grateful to The Tablet and the Bright Christmas fund for helping us to do that.”