The mayor of a New Jersey town ordered the removal of a Catholic shrine Wednesday that stood illegally on state-owned land for 14 years.
Hector Lora, mayor of Passaic, ordered a folk shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe be removed from land owned by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, according to The Record.
“The shrine was located illegally on public property and its removal should not come as a surprise,” Lora told The Record. “For over six months the city offered multiple resolutions for relocating the shrine, and all of those suggestions were rejected.”
The removal of the shrine sparked grief and outrage from locals, as the site was considered the spiritual center of the Hispanic Catholic community of Passaic. Citizens held Saturday prayer services at the shrine since 2003, and paraded the icon through the town every May.
“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?”
Citizens erected the shrine — a wooden log in a glass case surrounded by metal bars under a Mexican flag — 14 years ago when a local Hispanic youth claimed he saw the face of the Virgin Mary in the log, according to the Associated Press.
City officials looked the other way for years as a Catholic citizen group, Mayordomia Guadalupe, maintained the site. But trouble began when Mayordomia Guadalupe installed a collection box at the site and set up power lines to operate lighting for the shrine.
Lora said he could not lawfully allow a private, religious group to set up a permanent structure on public property and collect money. The city returned the floral arrangements and candles that garnished the shrine to Mayordomia Guadalupe. The shrine itself was removed to a “secure location.”
Bystander Esteban Dominguez told the Record the shrine’s removal would spark demonstrations.
“The mayor is not going to like what the reaction is going to be,” Dominguez said.
“I am standing for the law,” Lora said.
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