Saga of Guadalupe Shrine Removal Gripped Community

(Photo via Diario de México USA)

[Below is a story by Gery Vereau published by Diario de México USA]

Puebla-born María Eugenia Chávez said that she teared up as soon as she saw the tree stump with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe at 6 a.m. on Saturday, when the municipality returned the image to parishioners.

At 3 in the afternoon, when she was finally able to touch “La Lupita’s” dress as she made her way to St. Anthony’s Church – from where a procession took it to St. Mary’s – María Eugenia was sobbing. “She is our mother. I could not stop thinking about her in all of these 11 days they kept her away from us,” she said.

Juana López, for her part, breathed in relief, as new rumors had been running around saying that the stump had disappeared or been destroyed. “Thanks to God and the Virgin, we have it here with us again,” she said.

Thus, the “mystery” of where the next home of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe would be was solved. On Aug. 16, the [New Jersey] municipality demolished the shrine where it had been displayed for 14 years, on the intersection of Hope and Madison avenues.

Two days ago, on Saturday, Aug. 27, hundreds of Mexicans took to the streets of Passaic carrying pictures of the virgin and Juan Diego, bouquets, candles and rosaries, and sang to the virgin as they made a pilgrimage to her new home.

From now on, the tree stump will live at St. Mary’s Church, on 181st Market St. in Passaic. Parishioners were forbidden from taking photos and video of the image as it arrived in its new home.

To the devout, like Delfino Rocha, it was a triumph of the Mexican people to see the image return. “I can sleep better now, but all this fighting was exhausting, although necessary, for our faith,” he said. “I can now rest easy knowing that the image of our virgin is being protected.”

For his part, the president of Mayordomia Guadalupana (Guadalupan Stewardship) said that some details remain to be discussed. “We expect to be able to have the image out on the street on Saturdays so people can say the rosary next to it, but we have not discussed it with the priest at St. Mary’s Church yet. We hope he will accept us,” he said.

A political casualty

[The removal of the shrine and the apparent disappearance of the tree stump upset the community and even claimed a political victim. Below are excerpts from story by Gery Vereau published last week in Reporte Hispano.]

(…) The latest chapter is the resignation of the Mexican-born deputy mayor of Passaic, with more to come.

César Aguirre (Photo via Diario de México USA)

César Aguirre, a prosperous businessman and the representative of a new crop of Mexican-American entrepreneurs, made waves in the community this week when he stepped down from his deputy mayor position, seven months after being nominated and sworn in by Mayor Héctor Lora.

Aguirre announced that he resigned on Aug. 18 via Facebook Live through the account of the consul general of Mexico in New York, and took no questions from the press.

“The same way I invited you to my swearing-in ceremony as deputy mayor of community services on Jan. 5, and given the events that are unfolding,” said Aguirre, “I want to make it public that I submitted my irrevocable resignation to Mayor Héctor Lora due to the circumstances surrounding the Virgin of Guadalupe.”


His resignation triggered a chain reaction throughout the area’s Mexican community.

“He did the right thing in resigning. I say that the problem is that the Mexican community lacks political power, period. It bothers me that Mayor Lora said that murals, graffiti are pagan. The Hispanic community needs to organize to fight this abuse. What good is it to have a Hispanic mayor if he is attacking his own people?” said Puebla native and folklorist José Juárez.

Gabriela Pérez, also Mexican, believes that Aguirre’s resignation comes from his frustration over not being able to find a satisfactory solution for the Mexican community. “As for the rest, the Guadalupan devotion is a matter of faith. The Mexican community, mostly those without papers, finds its strength in faith. Even though I am not much of a believer or a Catholic, I feel attacked. They are mixing religion with politics here,” said Pérez.


Violation of church and state

[Below are excerpts from a story in El Diario/La Prensa two weeks ago]

Stunned, saddened and hurt. That is the way dozens of people said they felt on Wednesday [Aug. 16] as they witnessed in silence a bulldozer tearing down the Virgin of Guadalupe shrine in Passaic, New Jersey.

According to local media, the city’s new mayor, Héctor Lora, ordered that the image be removed. It had been on display at the corner of Hope and Madison avenues for 14 years, occupying an illegal, non-religious space that belongs to the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

Lora – who, in addition to being Passaic’s leader is a Methodist pastor – said that he could not continue to allow the image of a virgin to be in a public place because “that contradiction violates the principle of church and state.”

“For more than six months, City Hall offered a number of solutions to move the sacred image to a different location, but all proposals were rejected,” said Lora. (…)

[Below are excerpts from an earlier story by Gery Vereau published in Reporte Hispano.]

Passaic Mayor Hector Lora (middle) (Photo via Reporte Hispano)


The mayor insists that one of the reasons for his decision, along with the fact that the image was occupying state land without authorization, is that he found out that money was being collected to maintain the shine, also in an unauthorized manner.

According to text provided to the press, for years, there was a box for donations to collect money. Money was being donated by people who sincerely went there for their faith. Lora said that he does not blame those who gave donations with a genuine desire to honor their beliefs, but it was and is illegal to receive permanent donations at a public place for religious purposes.

He added: “What we did was stop the actions of those who poorly represented and took advantage of the real and genuine faith of others for personal gain.”

Video posted by multimedia journalist Sebastian Uribe shows the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe before it was taken down.

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