By Fr. Jack Podsiadlo, SJ
On Sunday, November 26, the sun had already set, and a silver sliver of moon illuminated the parking lot of Sacred Heart Church, Richmond, as a pick-up truck with Mexican license plates arrived bearing images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Juan Diego. Runners from St. Bernadette Church in Butner, NC, accompanied the caravan, carrying a blazing torch. Indigenous dancers from Dumfries, Va., welcomed the travelers and accompanied them with the rhythm of drum beats to the doors of the church, packed with parishioners assisting at the Sunday 5 p.m. Spanish Mass.
La Carrera Antorcha Guadalupana (The Run of the Guadalupe Torch) celebrates its 16th anniversary this year. Runners from different towns and cities along the route take turns bearing the torch, first lit in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The caravan left the Basilica on September 17, traveled through nine Mexican States and 14 U.S. States, and plans to arrive in New York City on the feast day, December 12. Because of the huge crowds of devotees of Our Lady, the arrival and Mass in New York no longer takes place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral but in Central Park.
Framed images of San Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe are making the journey from Mexico City to New York.
The message of the runners, emblazoned on their hoodies as well as on the truck is: Mensajeros por la dignidad de un pueblo dividido por la frontera (Messengers of the dignity of a people divided by a border). At the border crossing between Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and Laredo, Texas, a moving ceremony took place as the Mexican runners handed off the torch to the Mexican American runners with these words: We from the land of your birth … to you, our brothers and sisters, in the land of your present residency.
Sacred Heart Parish is blessed to be one of the churches where Our Lady, San Juan Diego and the Light that accompanies them find posada (lodging) on the long journey north. Many of our parishioners see their own journey north reflected in this annual event, although for many of them, their border crossing was not as easy as Our Lady’s. Monday morning, Sacred Heart’s runners, proudly wearing the Mensajeros hoodie and holding high the torch, began the trek north to the next posada. Along the way they know they will be greeted with both honks of solidarity and shouts of derision, emblematic of our nation’s attitudes towards immigrants. Yet although some may not have documents, they know they are messengers of the dignity of a people divided by a border.
Sacred Heart Church pastor, Fr. Shay Auerbach, SJ, blesses the runners before their departure.
Another gift from Mexico arrived the following day when the Mexican Government, through its Consul General in Washington, awarded a grant of $11,000 to Sacred Heart Center for its work this upcoming year with Mexican nationals residing in the greater Richmond area. The grant program, IME-Becas, supports the adult education programs of Sacred Heart Center, which include ESL classes, GED in Spanish, computer classes, Spanish literacy classes, citizenship classes, and the Latino Leadership Institute. Sacred Heart Center is honored to have received this support once again to be able to provide important programs for Richmond’s Latino community.