SOUTH OZONE PARK — You can call it five weddings and a funeral, or more accurately, a funeral and then five weddings.
When Matilde Meza Lucana, mother of 10, passed away in January, five of her children felt a call to finally be married in the Catholic Church.
That inclination has now become reality.
On Sept. 29, Augusto, 59; Sonia, 55; Mario, 50; Juana, 46; and Carlos, 36, each received the sacrament of matrimony with their spouses in a “mass wedding” at St. Teresa of Avila, South Ozone Park. It started with a funeral.
This past winter, Matilde passed away on a trip to Peru, the family’s native country. The children had her body brought back to White Plains, N.Y., where they live, for the funeral. One day, while praying with the family, their cousin-in-law Manuel Mendoza felt the Holy Spirit nudge him to invite the siblings who had been married civilly back to the faith.
First, Sonia called Mendoza to accept the invitation. Soon, Carlos followed, and then Juana. Quickly, all five couples were in Pre-Cana classes with the Mendozas.
“I wanted it for me, for God and for my mother,” Sonia said.
Mendoza and his wife, Mery, are parishioners at Holy Innocents, Pleasantville, in Westchester County. They have mentored couples for four years in Pre-Cana programs. The couples began the process at Holy Innocents with then-pastor, Father Hugh Burns, O.P., who had celebrated their mother’s funeral Mass. In March, when Father Burns was relocated to St. Teresa of Avila, they made plans to be married in Queens.
“This is amazing because the Bible says, if one person turns to God, all the angels will sing,” Mendoza said. “Now, we have not one, but 10.”
The couples have been married between 12 and 35 years. They have children, and several are grandparents. Every family member from each generation was part of the ceremony.
Donny Garate, 30, the eldest of Sonia and her husband Efrain Garate’s three children, said the day brought emotions he had never felt before.
“We were brought up Catholic,” Donny said. “Sometimes you stray away from the church, but today, doing all of this, they’re saying they feel, even when you wait, you can always go back and be close to God, and He’ll help you through.”
Preparation for the special day was much more extensive than it is for most couples. Father Burns said most couples meet with a priest and deacon in the six months leading up to a wedding, and they go through one afternoon of Pre-Cana. Manuel and Mery, who have prepared dozens of couples for the sacrament over the last four years, wanted to do more with their own relatives.
The couples met for eight months in what Father Burns described as more of a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults-like program. In fact, amid the wedding preparation, three of the siblings are in RCIA, and they will be confirmed back home at next year’s Easter vigil.
All of the couples drove to Queens from Westchester County to see the pastor four times during the six months after he was transferred. He has recognized many marriages in the church, but these were different.
“It was wonderful to see how willing they were. I mean, they had to come from Westchester,” Father Burns said. “It isn’t easy, but they did that so we could get together. They’re really committed to this, which is a beautiful thing.”
On their wedding day, the siblings made sure a portrait of their mother was with them on the altar. They all felt her present. She was their inspiration.
“I’m so happy,” Sonia said. “I got married next to my brothers and sister. I’m so happy for my mom, my family, for everybody.”