Manhattan's Marian Day Parade is New York City's Best Kept Secret

A Marian processions through the heart of a secular city like New York sends an important message to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

(photo: All Photos Courtesy of the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York)

Every October, in the concrete valleys amidst Gotham's steel and glass cliffs, where the law of gravity itself seems held in abeyance, New York City's best kept secret is openly displayed for all to see.

On the first Saturday of October, a month dedicated to Mary in her moniker as Queen of the Rosary, Catholics descend upon the Upper Westside's gritty, hardboiled streets and march out of love of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Marian Parade started at noon and processed north along Amsterdam Avenue beginning at 86th Street and ending at 107th Street―approximately one mile―at Ascension Parish.

The pilgrims marching in this year's 19th Annual Parade was met with pleasant temperatures and a clear, Marian blue sky. Univision/Telemundo televised the parade as it had in the past.

The Parade processes through three Catholic parishes: Holy Name Parish, Church of Notre Dame and Church of the Ascension. Bishop Emeritus Antonio Camilo Gonzalez of the Diocese of La Vega in the Dominican Republic was present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony which initiated the parade. Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh of the Archdiocese of New York co-officiated.

The Parade welcomed two new contingencies this year―Our Lady of Copacabana (Bolivia) and Our Lady of Cisne, (a province of Mexico.) Each was represented with its own float and many dozens of devotees.

The Marian Parade was instituted in 1997 at Manhattan's Ascension parish. In 2013, the Marian Parade members established a committee which was invited to take part of the Archdiocesan Committee for the heads of the 18 cultural events overseen by the Presidents of the Hispanic Committees. The first Parade was established by the Archdiocese's Vicar of Hispanic Affairs.

Wanda F. Vasquez, Director of the Archdiocese of New York's Office of Hispanic Ministry spoke with The Register about the 19th annual Marian Parade which took place on October 1, 2016.

"The objective of the Marian Parade is to give expression to the many Hispanic traditions dedicated to the Virgin Mary," explained Ms. Vasquez. "Each Hispanic culture present in New York City has their own tradition of giving honor to our Mother Mary."

Ms. Vasquez has been in charge of the Marian Parade since 2013. More than 800 people participated this year's event.

"There were 40 floats and a few that arrived without registering but were allowed to participate. A total of 18 ethnicities participated in the parade. Some years there are representatives of many countries devotions to Mary while, at other times, there are only a few. But, either way, we gather together to honor her," explained Vasquez.

Each Marian appellation, usually centered around a particular ethnicity, accompanies the car-driven float up Amsterdam Avenue. Devotees of Marian appellation follow alongside and behind the float.

"The Parade is an important component to our office because it reminds us of our deep devotion to Mary and the important place she holds in the spiritual life of Catholics here in in the United States but all also over the world," remarked Ms. Vasquez

Each ethnic community participating in the carries a statue of Mary indicative of that culture. Every year, Our Lady of Lujan (Argentina), Our Lady of Altagracia (Dominican Republic) Our Lady of Coromoto (Venezuela), Our Lady of Caridad del Cobre (Cuba) among other appellations participate in the Parades.

"It's wonderful that we have so many different cultures represented in the Parade. Each group shows the beauty of their faith and traditions.

The preparations for the Parade are extensive and include communicating with the different Marian devotional groups prepping them for the event.

"The police precincts [through which we march] have always been gracious and helpful as we plan the parade. Of and are always very helpful to us and to all of the members of our cultural committees," said Ms. Vasquez.

Though the Marian Parade is operated by the Archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry and the greater percentage of participants are indeed Hispanic Catholics, participation in the Parade has never been limited to only them. Indeed, Catholics of all ethnicities participate every year.

"The entire Catholic community is welcomed to take part of these events and the announcements are placed on our Archdiocesan Website," explained Ms. Vasquez.

At the end of the parade, the marchers of many diverse traditions come together as one community to celebrate Mass at the Church of the Ascension. Bishop Gonzalez along with seven priests including the parish's pastor Fr. Dan Kearney.

Altagracia Hiraldo, the Marian Parade's Coordinator was also the Parade's foundress. She approached Fr. Peal, the then pastor of Ascension Parish about the possibility of a parade dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The idea was seized upon and has grown ever since.

"I'm so happy to see so many people here processing with us and specially to see so many priests joining us this year. Mary our Mother is among us," explained Ms. Hiraldo. "She watches over us. I can say this with absolute certainty as I've experienced her grace and kindness in my life thousands of times."

"Next year's parade will be our 20th anniversary," Ms. Hiraldo pointed out. "We hope to make it an even bigger event hopefully calling together Marian devotional groups from throughout New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey and even beyond. It's our hope to bring an awareness of Marian devotion to all Catholics and to show non-Catholics the depth of our commitment and spirituality."

Marian processions occur with some regularity throughout America however, this parade in such a seemingly secularized city as Gotham, is refreshing. It sends an important message to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It reminds all of us that to there's no easier way to the Son, than through His Blessed Mother. As St. John Damascene reminds us, "Devotion to you, O Blessed Virgin, is a means of salvation which God gives to those whom he wishes to save."