METUCHEN, New Jersey — Standing before a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe bedecked with fragrant roses, Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio issued a challenge to the faithful seated within the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi Dec. 12: Their work had only just begun.
“This is intended to be a moment of beginning, not end,” said the bishop as he formally consecrated the Diocese of Metuchen to Jesus through his mother, Mary. “It is an act of faith to embrace this moment with greater fervor and live our faith even more boldly.”
Hundreds from throughout the counties served by the diocese — Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren — were drawn to the cathedral the evening of Mary’s feast to mark a spiritual milestone in the history of the diocese.
Through prayer, song and celebration, the faithful marked the conclusion of a “Year of Awakening” and the first fruits of a spiritual consecration of the diocese to Jesus through Mary as Mother of the Americas and Star of the New Evangelization.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, was the principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass, with Checchio and retired Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen concelebrating.
Priests, deacons, seminarians and religious took their places after a prolonged procession, as did Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre, Knights and Dames of Malta, Knights of Columbus and parish ambassadors. Some 65 singers representing 23 parishes were accompanied by organ, piano, flute, trumpet and violin as they sang a repertoire of Marian music in Latin, English and Spanish.
The celebration was more than a year in the making. In his pastoral letter dated Oct. 4, 2018, Checchio noted that during his visits to all 90 parishes of the diocese, “I began to hear a recurrent theme that I would summarize as a need for renewal. I sensed the most urgent need that our people and priests are longing for was ‘more,'” he wrote.
The bishop continued, “I have discerned that our renewed awakening and deepening our relationship with Christ will be entrusted to Mary … through the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe. … With the power of God’s grace and with open hearts, our lives, our families, our churches, our diocese will indeed become a beacon of hope: We will be salt and light, the city set on a hill.”
The diocese created a website, LightingHeartsonFire.org, for the diocesan consecration, defined as a setting apart for a holy, transformative purpose. The site provides resources and prayers in English and Spanish for both adults and children; guidance in hosting parish awakening nights, novenas and litanies; school-based events; and travel kits with Marian images designed for prayer and reflection within families.
Other events that built up to the Dec. 12 consecration include September’s walk by 700 faithful through the streets of Hunterdon County on a nine-mile mini-pilgrimage, and October’s visit by Checchio and nearly 80 pilgrims to Mexico and the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
In his homily, Pierre urged the faithful to display the same tenderness Mary has for her children despite the media’s portrayal of the Church as cold and heartless. He professed his love for the Virgin Mother in the form of Our Lady of Guadalupe, nurtured during his nine years as nuncio to Mexico and nearly four years in the United States.
“Mary is the great missionary,” the archbishop said. “She gave birth to the Savior of the World and brought the Gospel to the Americas. We found in her the inspiration on how to be disciples and missionaries of Jesus; just as she went forth to meet her kinswoman, Elizabeth, she brought joy to the people of America.”
Calling Our Lady of Guadalupe “the intersection between the Spanish and indigenous peoples,” Pierre asserted that her image was rich in imagery and portrayed her role of virgin and mother, a woman of prayer, piety and humility.
He revealed that, on a recent papal visit to Mexico, Pope Francis requested unlimited time for a visit to the shrine where her image was displayed, declaring, “I want to see the people of Mexico through the eyes of Our Lady.”
“The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has much to say to the people of the Americas,” the archbishop said. “It was a new visitation for a new evangelization. We are the fruit of her visit.”
Turning to face Checchio, he continued, “Bishop, religious men and women, all of you: incorporate the faith in Metuchen. It is quite a challenge, but a beautiful one. You are called to evangelize and re-evangelize. With God, all things are possible.”
Checchio led the congregation in an act of consecration to Mary and reminded them that St. Juan Diego had seen, believed and acted upon what he had experienced in his encounter with the Mother of Jesus.
“You and I are now called to do the same thing. Mary’s fiat shows us the pathway to surrender to God’s plan for our lives and our church,” he said. “The next step is to give thanks and consider what more could I do in my life to love and serve Christ in his church.”
Urging the parish ambassadors to rise and leading applause for their efforts, the bishop continued, “I ask you to continue to be a resource for ongoing communications and formation in intentional discipleship, sharing best practices and creative ways to further implement prayerful Marian and eucharistic spirituality in our parishes.”
The large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe led the closing procession; as the choir sang, “Come as we journey along the way, Santa Maria, come,” the image was placed under a tent on the cathedral’s front plaza. Congregants, each clutching a red rose, streamed out of the cathedral to stop, pray, and place their flower at her feet.
Leslie is a correspondent for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
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