PHOTO GALLERY: Virus victims’ ashes blessed, sent to Mexico
Dozens of officials from the Mexican consulate filed past the bronze doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, carefully carrying urns containing the cremated remains of 250 compatriots who died from the coronavirus.
Clad in black, they walked one-by-one down the nave illuminated by colorful stained-glass panels to the main altar, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan blessed the immigrants’ ashes. Loved ones in the wooden pews held photographs of the deceased.
Consul for political affairs Carlos Gerardo Izzo called the weekend ceremony “a great homage” to the dead, and said he and the other urn-bearers approached their task with the utmost respect and solemnity.
“From the beginning we were told to take our time,” he said. “We knew that what we had in our hands was not a box but the remains of a Mexican who came here to give their life for their family, for their country and for their adopted city, New York.”
More than 1,500 Mexican immigrants have died of the virus in the United States, according to Jorge Islas, consul general for New York, who helped organized the prayer ceremony. Over half those deaths were in the hard-hit metropolitan area, he wrote in a column for the Mexican newspaper El Universal.
New York City has had about 220,000 confirmed cases overall and more than 23,000 deaths from the virus, according to a running count by Johns Hopkins University, and Latino and Black communities have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.
During the lockdown many in those communities continued working in jobs classified as essential, everywhere from hospitals to supermarkets, despite the risk of exposure.
“They were the invisible heroes that allowed New York to continue with life during the pandemic,” Izzo said. “And that, sadly, cost them their lives.”
In the ceremony, a mariachi band near the altar serenaded the dead with “Mexico Lindo y Querido” — one of the genre’s most famous songs, and an exuberant celebration of patriotism and love for Mexico.
“Lovely, beloved Mexico,” its lyrics go, “if I die far from you, may they say that I’m asleep and may they bring me back here.”
Afterward the urns were taken to La Guardia Airport and put on a Mexican air force plane. Islas flew with them to Mexico City, where he tweeted nighttime images of a military honor guard receiving the remains on the tarmac.
Many Mexican immigrants in New York City come from the central state of Puebla, and more than 100 of the 250 urns were returned to that state, Izzo said.
Islas wrote that during the flight he reflected on what the pandemic has meant for the Mexican immigrant community in the United States, particularly those in the country illegally, and was filled with a sense of pride.
“They showed during the toughest moments of the coronavirus their disposition to work,” he wrote. “In good part out of necessity, but without fear to fulfill their duties and responsibilities to provide for their families in New York and in Mexico, which has a great dependence on the remittances that, month after month, they do not cease to send to their various hometowns.”
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