‘Que Viva Nuestra Señora’
PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe filled the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph with a standing-room-only congregation on Sunday, Dec. 12, and Bishop Robert Brennan led the devotees — the Guadalupanos — in dynamic veneration of the Blessed Mother.
Three times, Bishop Brennan proclaimed, “Que vive Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe! (Our Lady of Guadalupe lives!).” Each time, the massive assembly shook the co-cathedral with the response, “Que vive!”
The overflow gathering, estimated at approximately 2,000 people, had come to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in 1531 appeared to Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, Mexico, bringing hope to marginalized and maligned people of the Americas. Under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary is cherished in the Hispanic and Latino communities as a figure of God’s love and hope.
“Oh, my goodness, this is just overwhelming,” Bishop Brennan said after lighting the torches of Guadalupanos and sending them on processions back to their home parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“The faith of the Mexican people under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an inspiration for all of us in the various countries, including in the United States,” Bishop Brennan added. “And so we will place ourselves under her protection.” He called the love and joy surrounding her Dec. 12 feast day “contagious.”
Many commented that the massive turnout to mark the day was a big rebound from the 2020 celebration, when distancing protocols for the COVID-19 pandemic limited the co-cathedral’s attendance to about 220 people.
The 2021 experience, while not officially a feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar because Dec. 12 fell on a Sunday, saw Guadalupanos from an estimated 38 parishes in Brooklyn and Queens lining the co-cathedral walls.
The building’s undercroft was also packed with the faithful, many in cultural garb for the holy day. They watched the Mass on a large screen via livestream from upstairs. Even more stood outside on Pacific Street, which was blocked to traffic.
Numerous participants wore commemorative brown hoodies and navy blue sweatpants, along with their face masks. The hoodies bore the iconic image of the Lady of Guadalupe with the saying, “Recibid La Luz de Cristo (Receive the Light of Christ).”
The Mass was concelebrated by retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros and Father Christopher Heanue, rector of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph. The liturgy was in Spanish, including Bishop Brennan’s homily.
He referred to the Gospel reading, Luke 3:10-18, in which people who admired John the Baptist asked if he was the Christ, but he responded emphatically, no.
“John could have allowed the crowd to follow him as messiah,” Bishop Brennan said, “but he knew he was not the messiah. Rather, quoting Scripture, John led people to Christ, saying, ‘It is true that I baptize with water, but one mightier, more powerful than me is coming because I do not deserve to untie the straps of his sandals.”
Bishop Brennan said the good news proclaimed by John the Baptist “is good news for us,” because “Jesus, crucified and risen, is alive.”
He referred to the plan of many to proceed to their own parishes. “Some of you are going to carry the torch from this co-cathedral to your parishes. It is a sign of the task of each one of us: to always carry the light of Christ in our communities.”
Designated torch bearers received their flames from Bishop Brennan, and the rest of the Guadalupanos followed them back to their parishes, where the spirit of the feast continued.
There were no such processions last year, although Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio did light a single torch to symbolize the tradition. The torch was handed to the teenage nephew of Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, pastor of St. Brigid Parish in Brooklyn, who was the first priest in the U.S. to die of COVID-19.
Before his death, Father Ortiz-Garay, a native of Mexico, was director of the Mexican Apostolate for the Diocese of Brooklyn. For many years he organized the annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At his side was Eli Soriano, who also helped organize this week’s celebration with the apostolate’s new director, Father Baltazar Sanchez Alonzo, administrator of Saint Mary Gate of Heaven Parish in Ozone Park, Queens.
Soriano said after the Mass that Father Ortiz-Garay would have been proud to see the co-cathedral filled to the brim.
“Father Jorge is no longer here,” he said. “But we all spoke about him at the end of the Mass. We were thinking about his presence.”