Those visions of strength and love were on display last week when a group of Mexican youths arrived at the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Union City. They carried with them a torch that was originally lit in Mexico City on Oct. 29 at the Basilica of Guadalupe, the patron saint's home church.
Flags waved and chants of "Viva Mexico!" and "Viva Guadalupe" resounded in the quiet Union City neighborhood as the runners approached, their 3,000-mile journey almost at an end. Many congregants softly sang the Spanish hymn "La Guadalupana" as a steady rain fell.
The event was scheduled to culminate at a St. Patrick's Cathedral mass in New York City on Thursday, Dec. 12.
Organizers of the event, the New York City-based Tepeyac Association, said that the purpose was two-fold: to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe and to illuminate the struggles of the Mexican immigrant community in the United States. The torch symbolizes the faith of the Mexican people. According to a press release, the Tepeyac Association of New York is a "non-profit organization sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York that organizes and develops the Mexican people and defends the civil rights of the Latin American community."
Maricela Quintana, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Newark, said, "The theme of this whole event is 'the defense of a people divided by borders.' " She added that, "as Catholics, we are asking Guadalupe to intercede on behalf of the 'undocumented.' Nine million are in the United States, half of which are from Mexico."
There has been, according to the Tepeyac Association, a "history of discrimination," especially on the part of New York City officials, in past years.
In 1998, the first year that this event was organized, the Tepeyac Association was denied a permit to run through the streets of New York on a pre-determined route. Cardinal O'Conner interceded and the permit was granted. The year after, 1999, the City of New York claimed that they did not have the resources to pay overtime to the police officers who would cover the event, as Dec. 12 fell on a weekend.
The permit was eventually granted and the run has been held each year since.
Union City Commissioner Michael Leggiero was present representing Mayor Brian Stack and the rest of the city commissioners. Said Leggiero, "We're deeply honored that Union City has been selected for this stop. It's very special to our community." Leggiero added, "It is especially good for the Mexican immigrant community, some of whom live in deplorable conditions and still send money back to their home country. It's a tough life."
Father Richard Corbett, executive director of youth and young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Newark, whose office was asked by the Archbishop of Newark to help organize the event, commented that the event "Raises our awareness regarding our Hispanic brothers and sisters. It helps us to appreciate their contributions to church and society." He added, "We see that a significant portion of our people are Hispanic. As a society, we must realize that if a person is undocumented that they still count. If all the undocumented people ceased contributing their labors, our economy would falter."