WINDSOR TERRACE — “If not for our faith, I don’t know how we could have been able to go through the last weeks,” Socorro Ortiz-Garay told The Tablet from Mexico during a recent interview.
Socorro is the eldest sibling of Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, the pastor of St. Brigid’s parish in Brooklyn, who died March 27 at the age of 49 due to complications from COVID-19. He became the first known priest in the United States to die as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
When he died, the family organized two masses — one on Saturday after his death and another one the following Tuesday — that were livestreamed on Facebook. Socorro says a lot of people from his current and past parishes followed the Masses. Their messages of support for the family were mixed with their consternation for Father Ortiz-Garay’s death.
Back in Mexico, the family was trying to cope with the devastating news.
“We stayed together during those days,” Irais Ortiz-Garay, the youngest sister, told The Tablet, “and we would pray the Rosary as a family.”
“This tragedy has been even worst because of the pandemic that cost him his life,” Irais said. “We weren’t able to be there with him and now we can’t bury him.”
Since the day he died, the family has made constant efforts to bring Father Jorge’s body to Mexico so he can be buried in the family plot in Mexico City. But they have encountered numerous hurdles. New regulations established to contain the pandemic, plus the usual bureaucratic barriers involved, have left the family waiting for the remains of their loved ones for almost a month.
“It has been weeks since he died and we still don’t have my brother’s body here,” Irais said. “That has been the worst thing for the family — not to have his body, not being able to bury him. It has been very hard and sad for all of us.”
“The day before he died,” Socorro remembers, “that Thursday night we were able to have a video call with him. All the family was there — his siblings, his nephews, and nieces, our parents. He was having a hard time breathing — that was the last time we talked with him.”
According to his sisters, Father Jorge was having such a hard time breathing that he couldn’t talk for long. At some point during the conversation, his mother said, “I don’t want to see my son like that.”
“The following day he was put on a ventilator. We couldn’t communicate with him any longer,” Socorro added.
“The last words we heard from my brother during our last video call were, ‘I love you, I love you all,’ ” Irais said. The following day, Friday the day he died, he was no longer able to talk.
“These have been very difficult times,” Socorro added, “but our faith has sustained us, the faith our mother instilled in all of us since we were born.
Her sister, Irais, agrees. “What hurts the most is the physical separation, because at the end we know that God is great and Jorge is now with Him, face to face with Him. But we are human and it is still very painful.”
It is their faith, that allows them to accept their brother’s death and deal with the pain and devastation the whole family has experienced.
“My parents are shattered, but we have to stay strong for them,” Socorro said. “God gave us this test and only He knows the reason why we had to go through this. But it was my bother’s time to go since that was God’s will.”
They say that all the coverage their brother’s death received has been a consolation. They knew their brother was a great priest, but now they realized how many people came to love him and admire him.
“As a member of the Neocatechumenal Way told us,” Socorro said, “Jorge was a great man, and at the moment of his death he has been honored as the great man he was.”