Diocesan News

Mexican Apostolate Plans Scaled-Down Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The diocese’s celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe will include a tribute to the late Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, the Mexican native who was the first Catholic priest in the U.S. to die of COVID-19. (File photo)

WINDSOR TERRACE — It will be scaled down but heartfelt. The Mexican Apostolate for the Diocese of Brooklyn will host a celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 with a cultural program and a Mass at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph.

“We are having a celebration. It will be smaller,” said Father Baltazar Sánchez Alonzo, director of the Mexican Apostolate.

Dec. 12 marks the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe around the world. The feast celebrates the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary before St. Juan Diego, a Mexican peasant, in 1531.

Here in the diocese, the festivities will begin at 10 a.m. at the co-cathedral, located at 856 Pacific St. The day will start with a cultural program followed by a Mass at noon celebrated by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Octavio Cisneros, Vicar for Hispanic Concerns, will deliver the homily.

Attendance at the cultural program and the Mass will be strictly limited in keeping with social distancing rules. Only three people from each parish will be able to attend.

The event will include what promises to be an emotional tribute to the late Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, former director of the Mexican Apostolate, who died of COVID-19 on March 27. Father Ortiz-Garay, the pastor of St. Brigid’s Church, Bushwick, was the first Catholic priest in the U.S. to die of coronavirus.

The remains of Father Ortiz-Garay, who was a native of Mexico, were returned to his home country for burial.

“We will have a special celebration for Father Jorge. He dedicated his life to the diocese,” Father Sánchez told The Tablet. Father Sánchez succeeded the late Father Ortiz-Garay as the leader of the Mexican Ministry in the diocese.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe annually serves as an important fundraiser for the diocese’s Mexican Apostolate. This year, commemorative T-shirts bearing Father Ortiz-Garay’s name and image were sold in churches across the diocese as part of a fundraising drive. “We sold 2,300 shirts,” Father Sánchez said.

The COVID-19 pandemic led organizers to plan a smaller feast event this year. The celebration will forgo the traditional processions through the streets of Brooklyn and Queens that typically attract thousands of the faithful.

The traditional lighting of torches is also being dispensed with this year.

“We know what is going on,” Father Sánchez said, referring to the pandemic.

But there is still plenty to celebrate, according to Father Sánchez, administrator of St. Mary Gate of Heaven Church, Ozone Park. Mexican-Americans are proud of their heritage and proud of their deep faith, he said, even during a time in history when social distancing rules have become the norm.

The pandemic caused the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico to cancel its large-scale public celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City that was to have taken place on Dec. 12.

In the past, the feast has drawn millions of pilgrims who travel from across Mexico to come to Mexico City. Instead of a massive celebration, the Catholic Church of Mexico is recommending that churches in that country plan their own celebrations.