PASSAIC, New Jersey — A religious shrine that has served as a focal point for Hispanic residents of a New Jersey city has been removed after occupying ground on state-owned land for 14 years.
Workers took down the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Passaic on Wednesday. It consisted of a wooden log enclosed in a glass case, surrounded by statues, candles and flowers. It came together over the years after a Hispanic teenager claimed to have seen the face of the Virgin Mary in the stump.
More and more people came to venerate the site, and the shrine began to grow. It became a religious focal point for the areas growing Mexican Catholic community.
It became the site for a Saturday evening prayer service, and an annual Marian procession to the shrine was held each May.
Over the years, four murals have also been painted, by noted Mexican-American graffiti artists. The latest — painted last year — included images of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City and an image of Pope Francis.
Even though it was on state-owned land, officials did not object to the shrine, and even allowed it to be rebuilt when it was vandalized in 2012.
“It gives us hope,” Esteban Dominguez said of the shrine as she was watching workers dismantle it. “And everybody lives for hope.”
Dominguez was one of a large group of mostly Mexican-Americans who were there.
“I feel so powerless just standing here watching them take it apart,” Delfino Rocha told The Record. “It’s been here for 14 years and it’s not bothering anybody. Why do they have to remove it now?”
The shrine was on property along Route 21 that is owned by the state Transportation Department.
Mayor Hector Lora told The Record he ordered the shrine removed because of separation-of-church-and-state issues.
Lora previously served as pastor of Eastern Christian Free Methodist Church in Jersey City.
Lora said the group that maintained the shrine — Mayordomia Guadalupe — began to collect money at the site and ran electrical lines for security lighting. He said the city had tried unsuccessfully for months to relocate it and its removal should not come as a surprise.
“All of those suggestions were rejected,” he said.
Lora told the newspaper the wooden log icon had been taken to an undisclosed “secure location,” while Mayordomia Guadalupe was handed over the shrine’s statutes, candles, and floral displays.
Mayordomia Guadalupe has spoken to several churches and private properties in hopes of finding a place for the shrine.
Crux staff contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated Mayor Lora was currently serving as as pastor at Eastern Christian Free Methodist Church.