LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The lives of people lost to the “long, dark months of the coronavirus pandemic” was on the mind of Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles during an observance on the eve of All Souls’ Day.
The archbishop remembered those who died and prayed “that God may grant them rest and let his light shine upon them” during a virtual bilingual prayer service Nov. 1 in the outdoor courtyard of the mausoleum at Calvary Cemetery and Mortuary in East Los Angeles.
The evening prayer service marked Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, in what has become a tradition in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Held for the seventh consecutive year, the celebration follows the Mexican tradition of reminiscing about departed family and friends with colorful altars, or “ofrendas,” on Nov. 1-2.
This year’s online celebration allowed families to celebrate a Catholic tradition that unites faith, prayer and cultural heritage to honor the faithful departed.
The pandemic limited to eight the number of altars on display at the cemetery. The archdiocese said the altars are dedicated to victims of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi, who died in a helicopter accident in January, homeless people, first responders and Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, who was murdered in April at Fort Hood, Texas, by another enlisted soldier.
Nonprofit organizations, parish ministry groups, Catholic school students and archdiocesan representatives crafted the altars, which Archbishop Gomez blessed during the service.
“Each year we look forward to our annual Día de los Muertos and All Souls’ Day observances as they are genuinely one of the most uplifting celebrations for all of employees and staff,” Brian McMahon director of community outreach of the archdiocesan Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuary Department, said in a news release.
“This year, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, our team was challenged to create a meaningful program that allowed our patrons, family and friends to continue this magnificent tradition safely,” he explained.
Eduardo Lopez lost his father, Urbicio, 70, to COVID-19 in September. He said he and his wife, Ivonne, were “happy and honored to celebrate his life” through an altar that was built by parishioners at St. Genevieve Parish in the Panorama City neighborhood of Los Angeles.
“Last year, my father-in-law was reminiscing when he saw the photos of his parents and relatives on an altar we had at home, and today we have his photo on this altar,” Ivonne Lopez said.
During his prayer, Archbishop Gomez acknowledged the “heavy sorrow” people are feeling and asked that families and loved ones of those who died of COVID-19 find comfort and peace.
He called on the faithful to remember that through the resurrection, Jesus lives and those who believe in Christ will never die.
“And in this moment, I think that the church has a special duty to bear witness to this hope that has been entrusted to us,” said the archbishop, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Right now, in this time of sorrow, in this time when people are fearful and when many people are in the grips of despair, we need to reach out, we need to speak to their sorrow.”
The celebration featured the pilgrim images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego, the Mariachi Charro de Oro de Adrian Cruz and a traditional sawdust carpet, or “tapete,” with the image of Blessed Carlo Acutis, who died of leukemia at age 15 and was beatified by Pope Francis Oct. 10.
The archdiocese also held a virtual Día de los Muertos Catechetical Day prior to the service. It included online videos that allowed students from 15 Catholic schools to participate from home, encouraging them to create a sacred space or altar in their home.